Why the Criteria for Prohibiting Vets From Carrying Guns Needs to Be Changed
Since 2012, Congress has known that VA has been questionably submitting Veterans to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This practice uses vague federal regulations to actively attack the constitutional rights of Veterans. Ultimately, due process and proper oversight need to become standards in order to reduce unjust infringements on the Veteran community.
The NICS is a “no-fly” list for purchasing a firearm. Convicted felons, fugitives, and those committed to a mental institution are a few of the categories that add someone to the NICS. For a Veteran to be added to this list, it’s obvious that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), domestic violence, or another mental illness from deployment would be a contributing factor.
But courts, medical doctors, and service records play no role in this decision. No, the real culprit is finances. VA’s current criteria of black listing Veterans from their Second Amendment rights is because they need help with their pension.
Specifically, VA hides behind the following federal statute, “Ratings agencies have sole authority to make official determinations of competency and incompetency for purposes of: insurance and…disbursement of benefits.” It’s obvious this regulation only references financial matters, not the Second Amendment.
But if a Veteran is assigned a fiduciary to assist them with their military pensions, benefits, or other financial information, VA reports them automatically to the NICS because they are deemed as “mental defects.” And despite reporting requirements by all federal agencies, a senate press release said that more than 99% of those listed under the “mental defect” category are Veterans.
Financial knowledge and domestic violence convictions are worlds apart, yet VA categorizes these two groups together under their reporting criteria. Is this how a grateful nation repays its heroes; by bulldozing their constitutional rights?
Bear in mind that legally, these Veterans are not criminals, mentally ill, nor pose any danger to themselves or others. Their only mistake is being declared unable to handle their financial wellbeing by VA. And VA believes that a Veteran who can’t manage their finances by themselves can’t safely own and operate a gun.
In a follow-up to a 2015 letter to the Department of Justice, Senators Chuck Grassley and Johnny Isakson sent a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald outlining a number of concerning issues regarding due process with the reporting criteria including:
- Significant problems with procedural protections in VA. Things like hearsay and weak checks and balances on evidence create unclear standards of guilt for hearings about financial competence.
- Veterans have the burden of proving their competency to manage benefit payments, and coincidentally, maintain their Second Amendment rights. The letter states that under similar circumstances, this burden of proof is usually placed on the government.
- The hearing takes place inside VA with VA employees, instead of with a neutral arbitrator.
VA clearly advocates against due process. The deck is stacked against a Veteran from day one. Instead of honoring the rights defended by the military, VA interprets federal laws and the Constitution how they see fit.
The most difficult part about of all of this is the brutal obviousness of VA’s interpretation of this criteria. Senators Grassley and Isakson’s letter also cites a clear interpretation of what mental defective means via the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). “The ATF defined that term as a person with marked subnormal intelligence or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease who is a danger to themselves or others, or lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.”
Again, how does this standard presented by the ATF match with VA version? Under the VA standards, most Americans who need help filing taxes would be placed in NICS. VA unfair criteria for banning Veterans from gun ownership is one of the many problems with the bureaucratic system.
More due process in the VA system, both for financial competence and before they are added to the NICS, could help alleviate this disturbing problem. Increased processes for Veterans to appeal the automatic inclusion into the NICS could help bring transparency to the issue. Finally, better oversight from neutral groups like judicial courts or the inclusion from mental health experts will lend expert insight as to whether these Veterans are a real danger to themselves and others.
Veterans serve our nation in many ways. We ask them to fight overseas and serve abroad to protect this nation from those that would do us harm. That last thing a Veteran needs to do is fight an overbearing bureaucracy when they are finally home.