[3/18/17] The House on Thursday passed legislation prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs from placing veterans on a no-gun list, despite outcry from some Democrats and former military leaders.
The House voted 240-175 approving the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, which will now go to the Senate. Critics of the bill said it would make it easier for veterans with mental illnesses to access firearms, which would increase risk of suicide and pose a danger to families.
“It’s going to result in more deaths, more suicides of veterans throughout this nation,” retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly said Thursday on a call with reporters. “It weakens our background-check system and makes our country a less safe place.”
Kelly, along with his wife Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., created Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control advocacy group, after she was shot outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket in 2011.
Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs considers veterans who cannot manage their VA benefits and need another person to help with their finances as “mentally incompetent.” The department reports the names of those veterans to the FBI, which adds them to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – the national database that gun merchants are required to check before selling a firearm.
The bill would do away with that practice, and instead require the court system to determine whether veterans pose a threat to themselves or others before they’re added to the database.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who sponsored the bill, said the VA was violating veterans’ Second Amendment rights. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said he worried the current practice was discouraging veterans from seeking VA care out of fear they’d be added to the list.
“What it says [is] if you can’t balance a bank account, you can’t handle a firearm. There is no relation between the two,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Fla., who also spoke in favor of the bill. “So many people have been trapped by this overbroad rule.”
President Donald Trump’s administration issued a statement Thursday stating advisers would recommend Trump sign the bill into law if it passed the Senate.
The VA had contributed 167,815 names to the FBI database as of Dec. 31, 2016. It began adding names in 1998.
There was confusion among lawmakers Thursday about whether those veterans would be removed from the list if the bill were to pass into law. Roe said the names would remain on the list, but Democrats argued the language was retroactive and those 167,815 veterans would be allowed to purchase and keep firearms.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, criticized the committee last week for advancing the measure to a vote without a hearing.