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Bill aims to protect vets' gun rights

Apr. 27, 2009 - 02:06PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 27, 2009 - 02:06PM  |  
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A bill aimed at protecting the gun rights of some veterans is under Senate consideration.

The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, pending before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, would limit the circumstances in which a veteran's name could be added to a federal database used to do instant background checks for gun purchases.

By law, anyone "adjudicated as a mental defective," such as people found to be a danger to themselves or others or who lack the mental capacity to manage their affairs, must be registered in the database.

The bill, S 669, which has 15 co-sponsors, would prohibit VA from submitting names to the National Instant Criminal Background Check database unless a judicial authority finds the individuals to be a danger to themselves or others.

VA has been turning over the names of veterans who have had someone else appointed to handle their financial affairs. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking Republican on the veterans committee and sponsor of the bill, said VA has sent names of more than 117,000 veterans to the Justice Department since 1998 under the policy.

Burr said his bill would not be needed if the Justice Department changes its regulations. But the department refused to do so during the Bush administration and has shown no inclination to change course under the Obama administration.

The Justice Department declined to provide a witness for an April 22 hearing at which Burr hoped his bill would be discussed.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is one of several veterans groups backing Burr's bill because questions about gun ownership have interfered with other legislation, such as a veterans suicide prevention bill approved two years ago.

"Although there is still no danger a veteran will lose their right to carry a firearm for seeking treatment for [post-traumatic stress disorder], we offer our support for this legislation in the hopes it will quell any fears veterans might have about seeking treatment for mental health injuries," said Patrick Campbell, IAVA's chief legislative counsel.

Campbell was referring to rampant rumors that VA might begin providing the Justice Department with names of veterans who seek help for PTSD or other mental health issues.

"Our veterans are being unfairly targeted," Burr said, noting that the Social Security Administration has no similar rules. "The current process doesn't even assess whether these individuals pose a danger to themselves or others."

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