The VA Should Be Held Accountable for Violating Veterans’ Gun Rights
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This quote is from a book by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, but it is a phrase you may have heard in one form or another from a member of the US military. It is a poetic irony unique to the United States that our armed service members are willing to fight to defend the rights of others – even when they don’t always agree with how those rights are used.
So it comes as some surprise that a Federal agency would work specifically to take away the rights of veterans. But that is exactly what the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing. Without due process the VA has reported over 257,000 veterans “who cannot manage their finances” to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), effectively stripping them of their second amendment right to purchase firearms. The reporting has nothing to do with whether or not those veterans seem like a danger to society, or themselves, and even if that were the case, it would still be necessary to authorize that determination through due process in the courts.
The mission statement of the VA is, “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise: ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.” How “serving” and “honoring” became “stripping US citizens of their natural and legal rights without due process” is a mystery to me. Yet, here we are.
To make matters worse, the VA appears to be avoiding accountability for this issue entirely. Recently Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald questioning the actions of the VA in this matter. Despite requesting a reply by March 30, 2016, the VA does not yet appear to have issued any kind of response. If Secretary McDonald really believes the VA is doing the right thing, you would think he would be willing to explain or defend the actions of his organization.
But given the VA’s apparent silence, it seems clear that they know that stripping rights from veterans without due process is both wrong and illegal. Why would you respond to a question when you know the answer is bad? It’s easier to sit back and hope that people just forget and the problem goes away. This is of course in direct violation of the VA’s third core value: “I care about choosing ‘the harder right instead of the easier wrong.’”
That’s why we need your help reminding your local Congressmen that these Veterans deserve the same rights as you and I unless rightfully proven they are in fact a harm to themselves or society. Find your representative and tell them they need to give our honorable Veterans the rights back that they deserve.
It is good to see two members of Congress standing up for the rights of those who have sacrificed so much for the rights of others. However, with 20 veterans serving in the US Senate, and 81 serving in the US House of Representatives, it would be reasonable to expect a little more noise in this space.
This seems like a no brainer. Most elected officials seem to want to give the impression that they are working hard to take care of the veterans. What better way is there to do this than to pass legislation that actually takes care of veterans?
That is why VAN is calling on Congress to pass legislation that does two things:
1) Stop the VA from reporting names to the NICS – This is not their job, and it is clear that they have been operating without due process.
2) Have the names of veterans that the VA has previously reported to NICS removed immediately – There is no reason that veterans’ right should be stripped away just because somebody believes they “cannot manage their finances.”
Our veterans have given so much to this nation. It’s time to give back. At least give them their rights back.
Paul Brown is a Marine Corps veteran and the Executive Director of Veterans Action Network. From 2015 to 2016 he ran for US Congress in Texas, and he is the author of Total War. He lives in Dallas with his wife Chérie and son Joshua.