The Obama administration is pushing to ban Social Security beneficiaries from owning guns if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own financial affairs.
When I first heard this claim, I assumed it must be a false rumor circulating on social media and less-than-reputable websites. Instead, it turns out, if the L.A. Times can be trusted, to be true account of the White House’s intentions.
The push is intended to bring the Social Security Administration in line with laws regulating who gets reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is used to prevent gun sales to felons, drug addicts, immigrants in the country illegally and others.
A potentially large group within Social Security are people who, in the language of federal gun laws, are unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”
There is no simple way to identify that group, but a strategy used by the Department of Veterans Affairs since the creation of the background check system is reporting anyone who has been declared incompetent to manage pension or disability payments and assigned a fiduciary.
According to the LAT, the policy change would affect about 4.2 million adults who receive monthly benefits that are managed by “representative payees.”
The first question the Obama administration should have asked before implementing the “solution” was “Is there a problem?” Are there currently a lot of Social Security recipients who pose a threat to themselves and others by owing a firearm?” The second question they needed to ask was if incompetency in financial matters is the standard, must they also take guns away from everyone in Congress?
Taking weapons away from people with dementia may be a legitimate action. But there is no reason for the government to start grabbing guns out of people’s homes because they can’t balance a checkbook.
As Dr. Marc Rosen, a Yale psychiatrist who has studied how veterans with mental health problems manage their money, told the LAT, “Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe. They are very different determinations.”
Unfortunately, this policy is not the first of its kind. The Social Security policy is modeled after one that already has currently affects almost 200,000 military veterans. Since 2008, Veteran’s Affairs (VA) beneficiaries have had to file an appeal and demonstrate they pose no danger to themselves or others to get their guns back. But as the LAT notes, as of April, just nine of 298 appeals have been granted. Thirteen others were pending, and 44 were withdrawn after the VA overturned its determination of financial incompetence.
Republicans have introduced legislation in the last several sessions of Congress to change the VA’s policy. They need to do much more. We need our legislators to pass a law that completely prohibits government agencies from making such broad-based policies that violate Constitutional rights. We shouldn’t have to hand over our Second Amendment rights to the government when they hand us a Social Security check.