Vets Gun Rights Bill Stalls in Senate: VA Bureaucrats Can Still Take Your Guns Away
A word from a VA case manager can still cause you to lose your 2nd Amendment rights. While a variety of gun control amendments failed to pass cloture in the Senate on Wednesday, the Senate also failed to pass legislation that would have prohibited Veterans Administration bureaucrats from stripping certain veterans of the right to own firearms without a court order from a judge or magistrate declaring the veteran to be a danger to himself or others.
The legislation in question was a proposed amendment to Senate Bill 649, the so-called “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act, which was introduced by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). According to Senator Burr, at least 149,000 veterans have had their 2nd amendment rights stripped from them, simply because they had a fiduciary appointed for them to manage their financial affairs.
“Depriving someone of a Constitutional right is a serious action, and veterans should be afforded the same treatment under the law as all other American citizens,” Burr said in a press release. “This legislation would protect the rights of veterans and their families by ensuring that only a proper judicial authority is able to determine who is referred to NICS. Our veterans took an oath to uphold the Constitution and they deserve to enjoy the rights they fought so hard to protect.”
The VA had recently testified that they wanted to retain the ability to strip veterans of their right to own firearms unilaterally, without a court order or review. The VA defended the practice to the House Veterans Affairs Committee, arguing that there is a process in place for veterans challenging the decision to appeal to get their rights restored. “VA has relief procedures in place, and we are fully committed to continuing to conduct these procedures in a timely and effective manger to fully protect the rights of our beneficiaries,” VA says. “Any person determined by a lawful authority to lack the mental capacity to manage his or her own affairs is subject to the same prohibition.”
However, according to Senator Burr, only 200 veterans have challenged the revocation of their rights, and only six have done so successfully.
The VA’s position doesn’t hold water. First of all, they are begging the question. There is no reason to accept the VA’s assumption that a cub-scout caseworker in the VA bureaucracy, acting without any kind of review from either a magistrate, judge or even a medical professional, is in any sense a “lawful authority.”
Second, constitutional rights are God-given. They are not there for the executive branch to unilaterally revoke without any burden of proof that the veteran is a danger. The VA is trying to put the onus of proof on the veteran, rather than on the government to show why society at large has a compelling interest in revoking the citizen’s constitutional rights. The VA’s attitude flips the centuries old tradition of civil liberties and due process of law on its head.
Eleven Senators co-sponsored the Burr legislation: Senators Boozman (R-AR), Wicker (R-MS), Risch (R-ID), Moran (R-KS), Chambliss (R-GA), Roberts (R-KS), Thune (R-SD), Enzi (R-WY), Vitter (R-LA), Crapo (R-ID), and Inhofe (R-OK) are cosponsors of the legislation. The measure got a majority of Senators to vote in favor – the final vote was 56-44 – Senate rules require 60 votes to break cloture and receive a final up-or-down vote.
In addition to broad Republican support, the amendment also received support from these Democrats and Independents: Joe Donnelley (Indiana), Kay Hagan (North Carolina), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Angus King (I-Maine), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Jon Tester (Montana) and Max Baucus (Montana).
According to reporting from The Hill, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) expressed strong opposition to the amendment, calling it “ridiculous” because there were some veterans who had had their 2nd amendment rights revoked for a good reason.
A similar bill, sponsored by Representative Jeff Miller, the current Republican chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is alive in the House of Representatives.