A new bill, which made its way through a house committee last week, would allow more veterans to buy firearms. The bill is being supported by those who say that the current way that veterans are treated under gun legislation is unfair.
Currently, veterans who use a fiduciary have their details automatically added to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). The reason for this is that people deemed “mentally deficient” are currently barred from buying or owning firearms, and at the moment hiring a fiduciary to look after one’s financial affairs is taken to indicate that a person is mentally deficient. Under the new bill, this definition will be made narrower, allowing more veterans to buy and own guns.
Proponents of the bill say it is unfair that veterans have their second amendment rights taken away just because they seek financial help. For many Republicans, this is a betrayal of the men and women who have been willing to risk their lives for the US.
At the moment, it is the Veteran’s Association who passes the information that a veteran has contract a fiduciary to the authorities. Under the new bill, they would be barred from deeming these veterans as “mentally defective” without an independent opinion by a magistrate or judicial authority. The authorities would have to prove that a person posed a threat to themselves or others before barring them from buying firearms.
The bill has many opponents. Representative Elizabeth Etsy, a Democrat from Connecticut and an important member of the Committee, is deeply opposed. She says that the bill, if it passed, would actually have the opposite effect than that intended by its Republican supporters.
The problem is suicide. More than 20 veterans a day die by their own hand, and the vast majority use a firearm to do so. Etsy claims that the bill, if it passes, will allow veterans who are suicidal easier access to firearms, and therefore increase suicide rates in that group.
The proposed bar for proving that a veteran is mentally defective is certainly high, requiring a lengthy bureaucratic process. Opponents of the bill think that it would therefore be almost impossible for the Veteran’s Association to bar people who it thought were suicidal from buying weapons.
Etsy’s opponents typically counter with the idea that second amendment rights are sacrosanct, and should not be denied to veterans, who fought for them. They also fear that the current system represents a level of “bureaucratic overreach” which denies rights to millions of Americans.
Nonetheless, those who oppose the bill say that the current system is protecting veterans. In 2015, 170,000 veterans’ names appeared on the NICS list, in many cases because their details had been passed over after they hired a fiduciary. Of these, 19,552 had been diagnosed with PTSD, 11,084 with dementia, 5,462 with Alzheimer’s, and 3,981 had serious depression. Allowing this group of people easier access to weapons puts them at risk, say the bills opponents.
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