After Easing Veterans' Access to Guns, House Republicans Vote to Tie VA's Hands Further in New Spending Bill

A gun seller shows a SIG Sauer handgun to a customer at a gun show in Miami.
A gun seller shows a SIG Sauer handgun to a customer at a gun show hosted by Florida Gun Shows, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

The Department of Veterans Affairs would not be able to send names of veterans who have had financial managers appointed for them to the FBI's gun background check database under any circumstances under annual spending legislation approved by the House on Wednesday.

A provision passed in the fiscal 2024 VA spending bill already restricts the department's ability to send names to the database unless a judge issues an order that a veteran is a danger to themselves or others, and that same language was included in the initial version of the fiscal 2025 spending bill that was released by the House Appropriations Committee last month.

But an amendment passed during House floor debate on the spending bill this week would take away the ability to submit names even in the event of a judge's order.

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The amendment was approved 211-193 on Tuesday afternoon. The full VA spending bill, which also includes funding for military construction, was approved Wednesday morning with a 209-197 vote. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The bill must still be negotiated with the Senate, which could add back in the stipulation for a judge's order.

    But the amendment marks another effort by House Republicans to relitigate fights from the last spending bill. Republicans also revived an amendment to block the VA from updating its motto to include female veterans during this week's floor debate, and the underlying bill includes anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ measures that Republicans unsuccessfully pushed last year.

    Republicans made ending the VA's practice of submitting names to the background check database one of their top priorities when they took control of the House last year, and the gun rights provision was one of their few wins in the 2024 spending bill.

    Previously, the VA would report the names of veterans for whom it appoints fiduciaries to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, the system used to determine whether someone is legally prohibited from buying a gun.

    The VA will appoint a fiduciary to manage a veteran's financial affairs if it determines a beneficiary is "mentally incompetent" under VA regulations. Department officials have argued that restricting those veterans from buying guns could save their lives since there's a correlation between suicidal ideation and financial issues. They have also maintained they were following the 1993 law known as the Brady Act, which mandates people "adjudicated as a mental defective" be added to the database.

    Shortly after the 2024 spending bill passed in March, the VA said it had complied with the new law and stopped reporting any new names to the database.

    In a letter to Congress a week after the bill passed, VA Secretary Denis McDonough also said the department was working on "necessary updates" to its regulations so that it could resume adding names to the database without running afoul of the law.

    "These efforts will also consider how VA may obtain or otherwise receive notice of orders and findings of judicial authorities that a beneficiary is a danger to themselves or others," McDonough wrote.

    Democrats who opposed the language in last year's bill have pushed the VA on creating a process to get the necessary judge's order.

    "At a time when veteran suicide remains a terrible crisis, we should not be making it easier for veterans who are a danger to themselves or others to access firearms," 138 House Democrats wrote to McDonough in March. "We ask you to commit to creating an automatic process to seek a judicial order for veterans the department has found to be mentally incompetent for the purposes of appropriately adding them to the NICS background check system."

    Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz., who offered the amendment approved this week, accused the VA and Democrats of trying to "create an unauthorized process for dragging veterans before judges for 'red flag' disarmament proceedings," necessitating his more stringent amendment.

    "These lawless suggestions by my Democratic colleagues are the nightmares of veterans," Crane said.

    The same language lacking the carve-out for a judge's order was passed by the House in its draft of the VA spending bill last year, but the Senate's version included the clause about getting a judge's consent. The Senate's measure won out during negotiations on the final bill.

    The White House has already threatened to veto the House's 2025 VA spending measure, in part citing the gun rights language that was in the underlying bill.

    While the language that was in the bill before this week's floor votes was identical to what was signed into law last year, the veto threat argued the provision would "creat[e] a dangerous loophole that would allow these individuals to obtain firearms and endanger their safety and the safety of their communities."

    Related: Veterans' Gun Rights Amendment Included in Compromise Must-Pass VA Spending Bill

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