The U.S. Senate voted 57-43 on Wednesday to reverse a Social Security Administration (SSA) regulation that would have denied Second and Fourth Amendment rights to tens of thousands of citizens who do not pose a danger to themselves or others. The Obama rule would have empowered SSA bureaucrats to prohibit people who receive Social Security disability payments for a mental disability and have a representative payee handling their finances from purchasing or possessing a firearm. The wide array of mental disabilities includes conditions like eating disorders.
Following a previous vote in the House, the measure now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The Senate vote is sure to renew howls from the media and anti-gun politicians who, in the wake of the House vote, erupted with inflammatory fake news headlines. They claimed that the GOP-controlled House ended background checks for the severely mentally ill:
“House Votes To Overturn Obama Rule Restricting Gun Sales To The Severely Mentally Ill” – NPR
“House votes to roll back rule to prevent mentally ill from buying guns” – UPI
“House GOP Overturns Rule Restricting Mentally Ill People From Buying Guns” – Vanity Fair
In reality, exactly none of that is true. Astonishingly, SSA claims it doesn’t need a judge to ”adjudicate” you a “mental defective.”
This media hysteria is over Congress’ rolling back of an executive action by then-President Barack Obama, enabling the Social Security Administration (SSA) to bar certain benefit recipients from buying a gun. SSA intended to flag people who have a ”representative payee” to help them manage their benefits as potentially being “mentally defective,” and submit their names to NICS.
In addition, here are seven more things fake news outlets aren’t telling you about Social Security’s overreaching power grab:
1. The SSA acts as both judge and doctor when adjudicating you “a mental defective.” If you believe that an adjudication of a person’s mental state should be left to a court of law, you need to expand your vision, Dr. Cyclops.
From the SSA entry in the Federal Register: “Our adjudication is an adjudication by a lawful authority, by virtue of the authority granted to the Commissioner of Social Security under the Social Security Act.” Astonishingly, SSA claims it doesn’t need a judge to ”adjudicate” you a “mental defective.”
“We are basing our report on the individual’s inability to manage his or her affairs as a result of his or her mental impairment.” Which means if you receive benefits because of PTSD, anxiety, or even an eating disorder, SSA labels you mentally defective if you need help balancing your checkbook.
2. SSA rules discourage those needing treatment from seeking it. The threat of losing their Second Amendment rights could be enough to keep some recipients who love their guns from applying for treatment. As David Benkof wrote in The Daily Caller, “… Social Security claims are routinely denied for people who don’t see doctors and don’t take their medications. So the Obama rule only applied to people receiving mental health care. If it remains in force, people who like guns will avoid treatment ... If the Republican bill passes, many of those same people will feel comfortable seeking government aid and therefore treatment ….”
3. SSA exempts anyone over 65. Contrary to reports in the mainstream news, SSA’s new ban doesn’t apply to citizens once they have reached “full retirement age.” Presumably, if the SSA rule is the right thing to do, why limit its application by age?
Could it be that SSA didn’t want to risk angering the nearly 38 million members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), one of the largest and most effective lobbies in the nation?
4. There is no crime wave being fueled by SSA recipients. In the wake of Sandy Hook, Obama directed federal agencies through executive order to reexamine federal reporting guidelines. SSA had never before considered its benefit recipients reportable “mental defectives” in the two decades NICS has been operational, and makes no effort to justify on public safety grounds turning in the names of tens of thousands of citizens to NICS; it merely claims that it is now suddenly forced to by law.
This is convenient for SSA, because its actions are not justifiable. No one has a list of mass murderers who supposedly would have been stopped by such a policy.
We can’t say it better than the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): “There is no data to support a connection between the need for a representative payee to manage one’s Social Security disability benefits and a propensity toward gun violence.”
Speaking of the ACLU …
5. The ACLU opposed the SSA rules. The ACLU is not known as a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights, having once written, “We do not oppose regulation of firearms as long as it is reasonably related to these legitimate government interests.”
However, the idea that a government agency could use a disability as grounds to deny a constitutional right was more than ACLU could stomach: “We oppose this rule because it advances and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent … Here, the rule automatically conflates one disability-related characteristic, that is, difficulty managing money, with the inability to safely possess a firearm.”
ACLU was not the only group to join NRA in opposing the SSA rule:
6. Mental health and disabled communities opposed the SSA rules, too. In an excellent Feb. 3 nationalreview.com article, A1F contributor Charles C.W. Cooke listed over 20 mental health and disabled advocacy organizations that opposed the rules, including ADAPT, the American Association of People with Disabilities and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. All decried the stigmatization of mental illness with gun violence, as well as the inadequacy of the SSA’s process for getting one’s rights reinstated.
Their entreaties echoed those of the ACLU: "Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe," Yale psychiatrist Dr. Marc Rosen told the LA Times. "They are very different determinations."
Finally, a demonstration of the unintended consequences of SSA’s overreach:
7. Rules such as SSA’s threaten shooting programs for the disabled. Those claiming the SSA policy doesn’t significantly impact disabled recipients should look at the damage done by a similar Veterans Administration policy.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a disabled member of one of the service branch’s wounded warrior shooting teams told me that shooting had taught him how to control his incessant shaking. He described how the techniques he learned through shooting helped him subdue his anxiety. He loved traveling around the country, being cheered on by his fellow disabled shooters at shooting competitions and seeing his skills improve.How could the government to whom he had given so much now declare his disability made him less of a citizen, not entitled to the same rights as everyone else?
However, the Veterans Administration sent him a letter informing him that, because a family member helped pay his bills, they were adjudicating him mentally ill, turning his name into the NICS system and barring him from buying, possessing or handling firearms. He was shocked and angered; how could the government to whom he had given so much now declare his disability made him less of a citizen, not entitled to the same rights as everyone else?
He immediately transferred his firearms to a trusted friend for safekeeping. He spoke to us anonymously out of fear that the VA would either appear at his door looking for guns, or impose their will to end his competitive shooting career. He continues to compete in fear that the VA will act upon a Facebook or Instagram post celebrating his journey back to health through shooting.
The SSA’s policies that would be repealed by the congressional resolution are similar to the VA policies.
The Senate and the House votes are recognition of the hundreds of thousands of recipients of government benefits being wrongly threatened with denial of constitutional rights. Any news outlet blaring that they are abolishing background checks for the severely mentally ill should be grateful if “fake news” is the worse appellation with which they are plastered. They deserve far, far worse.
Clay Turner has been the creative director for every issue of America’s 1st Freedom magazine, an official journal of the NRA, as well as the associated Second Amendment news website, Americas1stFreedom.org. When not writing and designing for those, Clay leads the design team for each year’s NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits. In between, he races sports cars and shoots just enough competitions to maintain his A rating with the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).