At issue is whether a veteran who has been found unable to handle his or her financial affairs should have the right to own a gun. The Department of Veterans Affairs frequently assigns someone else, often a family member, to handle a veteran's finances, including his or her government pension and benefits. This triggers a report to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that the veteran is "incapacitated." Under the law, any such person, veteran or not, is barred from buying or owning guns. The law also applies to family members living under the same roof.
Coburn, as well as the four Democratic co-sponsors of the amendment—who include Jim Webb of Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana—argue that veterans should not lose their right to own firearms simply because they can't handle their finances. The bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives The House version of the bill, S. 1707, which passed last year, would require that the right to purchase or possess guns could only be taken away if a judicial authority rules a veteran to be dangerous.
That's not how Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York sees things. On the Senate floor last week, he said:
"I love our veterans, I vote for them all the time. They defend us," Schumer said. "If you are a veteran or not and you have been judged to be mentally infirm, you should not have a gun."The hang-up would seem to be what is meant by "judged." Coburn and his co-sponsors aren't happy with VA bureaucrats making the rulings and want veterans to "at least have their day in court if you are going to take away a fundamental right given under the Constitution."
As would be expected, the National Rifle Association supports anything that means more guns in more hands, so it's behind the amendment. Among the veterans groups that support it is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The organization's chief policy officer, Tom Tarantino, told the Associated Press that some veterans afflicted by traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder but who pose no threat to others may be unfairly being kept from possessing guns. He says these are combat injuries, and nobody who lost a hand in combat would be barred from gun ownership.
A lousy comparison, as Tarantino surely knows. To be sure, TBI and PTSD affects each individual uniquely, which the VA obviously recognizes. Of the 127,000 veterans whom the VA has placed in the mentally "incapacitated" category since 1998, only 185 have appealed to get their names taken off the NICS registry. That seems to indicate the current approach works just fine as it is. The vast majority of veterans with TBI and PTSD have not been judged incapacitated and those that have are afforded an avenue by which to prove they were misjudged. Given the high rate of suicide among veterans and the potential for other tragedies when guns are close at hand for people who have been ruled unable to handle their own affairs, the law as it now stands ought to be considered a reasonable dose of preventive medicine.