Protecting Veterans’ Second Amendment Rights

This Memorial Day, as we remember the military men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, we should also note that many of our bravest troops are suffering a terrible injustice today at the hands of their own government.

Many troops who saw combat in wars ranging from WWII to Afghanistan are losing their Second Amendment rights at an alarming rate after being seen by government psychiatrists. 

Under the Clinton presidency, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) turned over the names of around 90,000 veterans to the Justice Department’s National Instant Background Check System (NICS), meaning these veterans could no longer buy or possess firearms. 

Inquiries made nearly a decade later by Republican Senators Tom Coburn (OK) and Richard Burr (NC) confirmed that these names were submitted not on the basis of a criminal record or whether a veteran is a danger to self or others, but because a doctor determined that a third party should be assigned to manage the veteran’s financial affairs.

How can this be?  It’s due to the elasticity of the definition of “adjudicated mentally defective.”  According to federal law, a person so adjudicated is prohibited from owning a firearm.  For the better part of forty years, this meant that a person was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” in a criminal trial.

But what once took place in a courtroom with due process has morphed into something much broader with far fewer legal protections.  The definition of “mental defective” now includes people requiring help managing their financial affairs (it would be interesting to see this standard applied to Congress and cabinet officers.)

So veterans who go to the VA for help — often with symptoms related to stress in combat — and are determined to need help with their financial affairs are automatically deemed “mentally defective.”  And even if the help is for a short period of time, the gun ban lasts a lifetime.  Oh sure, it’s possible to get off the list, but only through the very same bureaucrats who supported the ban in the first place.

Furthermore, such determinations are not made in a court of law with an impartial judge or jury, but by unaccountable VA employees. 

Under the guise of “mental defectiveness,” therefore, many veterans who served their country honorably have lost their Second Amendment rights for life because a doctor or a bureaucrat in the VA appointed someone to look over their checkbook. 

But it gets worse.  What started during the Clinton administration was escalated by a law signed by President George W. Bush.  What had been done illegitimately by the VA since 1998 is now required by the “NICS Improvement Act,” which became the law of the land in 2008. 

Veterans deserve the best mental healthcare available, but the threat of losing their Second Amendment rights is a disincentive to those who would benefit from treatment.

Thankfully, a bill to protect those Second Amendment rights has begun to move through Congress.  S. 669, the “Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act” was recently reported favorably out of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Burr, is simple.  It requires due process and a finding in court that the person is a danger to self or others before being stripped of his or her Second Amendment rights.

“Taking away a Constitutional right is a serious action and veterans should be afforded due process under the law,” Sen. Burr said.  “Our veterans took an oath to uphold the Constitution and they deserve to enjoy the rights they fought so hard to protect.”

John Velleco is Director of Federal Affairs for Gun Owners of America, a national gun rights organization with over 300,000 members nationwide.