In her sunset years, my wheelchair-bound mother lived in subsidized senior housing. She was often exhausted at day’s end just from the grind of cooking, cleaning and daily living. However, she was staunchly independent, and wished to be a burden on no one.
She lived on her Social Security income, navigating Medicare to help pay for her medical expenses. Dealing with these immutable government bureaucracies was her primary source of frustration and confusion. It would have comforted her immensely to offload the financial responsibility of dealing with them to someone else—say, a relative or a family attorney. The Social Security Administration (SSA) calls these trusted people “representative payees.”
Starting this year, the SSA will flag such seniors who name a representative payee as being “unable to manage their own affairs.” They will be investigated as possibly being mentally incompetent, and SSA bureaucrats will be empowered to turn their names in to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), barring them from buying, or even possessing, a gun for their own self-defense.
Wait … what? Social Security can turn my mother’s name in to the NICS system?
Yes, you read that right. President Barack Obama’s January 2016 executive orders required federal agencies to scour their databases for “mental defectives”—in other words, those who pose a danger to themselves or others; lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs; have been found insane by a court in a criminal case; or have been found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility. SSA has decided to go much further than merely submitting information on prohibited persons to NICS: It will actually determine who is “mentally defective” on its own authority.
A White House fact sheet on those executive orders included this note: “The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.”
However, new rules announced just last month reveal that the SSA has decided to go much further than merely submitting information on prohibited persons to NICS: It will actually determine who is “mentally defective” on its own authority. The request for a payee will trigger a five-step process whereby the SSA may “adjudicate” the recipient as incompetent.
No decision from a judge or court—or even a mental health professional—will be required to deny law-abiding citizens a constitutional right.
You can be forgiven if you thought that being “adjudicated” mentally ill meant that a court of law had found you so, or that you had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. But you would be wrong.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) says that you can be adjudicated a “mental defective” by a “court, board, commission or other lawful authority.”
The Department of Justice’s U.S. Attorney’s manual says that “lawful authority” “refers to the authority to manufacture, prepare or issue identification documents by statute or regulation.”
Which means that the Social Security Administration is empowered to find you mentally defectivesimply because the law authorizes it to issue every American a Social Security card.
On Aug. 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act as part of his New Deal with America’s citizens. The preamble to the act outlined its purpose:
“An act to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws; to establish a Social Security Board; to raise revenue; and for other purposes.”
Obama found a way to exploit those “other purposes” and use the SSA to achieve what he could not through legislation—that is, to strip the Second Amendment rights from huge segments of Americans.
How can it be that the government agency charged with providing benefits for seniors and the disabled can be twisted into a law enforcement agency, imbued with the awesome power to deny citizens’ rights without any due process?
The surprising truth is that the SSA has been in the law enforcement business for quite some time. In a petulant blog post titled “Explaining Our Law Enforcement Authority, Again,” the SSA impatiently recounts how, in the wake of 9/11, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 gave the SSA “statutory law enforcement authority.” SSA has the power to create a labyrinth so complicated that vulnerable citizens will find it impossible to navigate—at which time the SSA can then declare them incompetent.
Moreover, the SSA is not even the first bureaucracy to go down this path. It was preceded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, whose standard for mental incompetence is even lower than the SSA’s. The VA has turned over to NICS the names of tens of thousands of vets based on no evidence other than the fact that they named a representative payee. Is this truly the thanks of a grateful nation?
For its part, the SSA is claiming that the law is forcing its hand—which sounds suspiciously like, “We were just following orders.”
Have you ever had to deal with the SSA bureaucracy? Have you waited for hours to buy healthcare insurance on an Obamacare online exchange? Have you ever tried to get the IRS to explain why your organization’s application for tax-exempt status is taking months to approve? If so, then you know that government bureaucracies excel at byzantine regulations, unresponsive websites and indecipherable forms that frustrate average citizens to the point of surrender.
Consider, then, this alarming scenario: SSA has the power to create a labyrinth so complicated that vulnerable citizens will find it impossible to navigate—at which time the SSA can then declare them incompetent.
Unfortunately, this scenario is the inevitable result of an unrestrained bureaucracy. Laws are passed with noble intent (to protect seniors), but their authors are unable to predict the ways others in government will use the power granted therein to achieve unrelated goals. In some office, in another corridor of power, someone wants control … and they’re looking for a creative way to use existing laws to impose it.
In this case, they found the Social Security Administration.