GOP Pushes For Gun Access To Mentally Incompetent Veterans

Congressional leaders have reached a deal to prevent a partial government shutdown, and one of the provisions in the agreement aims to improve veterans’ access to gun ownership. The $436 billion funding package, which extends the deadline for government agency funding until March 8, includes a measure that would eliminate the long-standing ban on gun ownership for veterans deemed mentally unfit to possess a firearm.

This victory for Republicans has been met with applause from gun rights advocates, who have long protested the ban. The nonprofit lobbying organization Gun Owners of America, celebrated the elimination of the ban on social media, stating that the deal not only cuts funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives but also eliminates a 20+ year-old gun ban for veterans. Additionally, the funding package temporarily reauthorizes the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988.

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs has the authority to report the names of veterans considered mentally incompetent to handle their VA funds to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This database is used to conduct criminal background checks during firearm purchases. If a veteran is found mentally incompetent and assigned a fiduciary to manage their finances, they can be prevented from buying a gun. The rationale behind this restriction is to protect both the veteran and others from potential harm.

Gun Owners of America has long campaigned against this legislation, claiming it is “abusive” and infringing upon veterans’ constitutional rights. They argue that veterans who may be struggling with their health or just need assistance managing their finances should not be denied their right to bear arms.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, on the other hand, has expressed concerns about changing the ban, fearing that it could hinder efforts to prevent suicide among veterans. The latest data from the VA shows that the rate of suicides among veterans is increasing, with suicide being the 13th-leading cause of death for veterans overall and the second-leading cause for veterans under the age of 45. In 2021, there were 6,392 reported veteran suicide deaths, 114 more than the previous year.

While the funding package and the accompanying budget bills have not yet passed through the House, where opposition from the Freedom Caucus is expected, there is optimism that a long-term budget plan can be reached later this year. This deal represents a significant step forward in addressing the issue of veterans’ access to gun ownership. It highlights the ongoing debate between the need for public safety and the protection of individual rights.