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VA: Bill to preserve gun rights for disabled vets not needed

Apr. 17, 2013 - 12:52PM   |  
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The Senate could vote Wednesday night on controversial legislation aimed at protecting gun ownership rights for veterans found to be incapable of handling their financial affairs.

The proposed Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act would block the Veterans Affairs Department from reporting to the FBI the names of veterans VA has determined to be “incompetent,” a term used to describe those who are appointed a fiduciary to pay their bills and manage their finances. VA opposes the bill.

A Senate vote is possible Wednesday night during debate on the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act. A veterans’ gun ownership amendment, sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is one of eight amendments.

Burr, ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also has a freestanding bill on the issue, as does Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman.

Miller, whose bill was discussed at a Tuesday hearing, said he has no problem with VA assigning fiduciaries to veterans who, because of injury or disease, may lack the mental capacity to mange their own affairs. But he does not believe this information should be reported to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

More than 130,000 veterans have been reported to the database.

Reporting veterans to the criminal background check database “prevents individuals from purchasing firearms in the United States, and criminalizes the possession of a firearm,” Miller said at a hearing of his committee’s disability assistance panel, where his bill was referred.

Both Burr and Miller would prevent veterans from being reported to the FBI as incompetent unless a court determines they pose a danger to themselves or others — a step Miller said would provide due process rights.

“Taking away a constitutional right is a serious action and one that should not be taken lightly, particularly when it concerns our nation’s veterans,” Miller said.

VA, in a written statement, says it does not support the change. Current procedures allow a veteran to have firearms rights restored by either getting the incompetency determination reversed or by petitioning VA to have their firearms rights restored “on the basis that the individual poses no threat to public safety,” the statement says.

“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.”

By exempting veterans, the bill “would create a different standard for veterans and their survivors than that applicable to the rest of the population, and could raise public safety issues.”

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans’ group, backs Miller. “It is both sad and ironic that the veteran community, a community in which each and every member swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States to include the Second Amendment, requires advocacy to maintain its constitutional right to bear arms,” the Legion says in a statement. “Unless deemed unfit to possess weapons by a judicial authority with the full benefit of due process, each veteran regardless of disability should maintain the right to possess a firearm.”

The Legion notes that hunting and target shooting are activities included in some of VA’s own programs for disabled veterans, and also expresses concern that veterans might not seek treatment for problems such as post-traumatic stress because of “fear of repercussions such as confiscation of firearms.”

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