On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 235-180 to repeal an Obama-era rule that required the Social Security Administration to report those who are on disability insurance and have a mental illness to the FBI’s background check system. Such information was then used to deny those people the right to buy a firearm.
The vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans supporting repeal and Democrats opposing it. Supporters of repeal say that courts should make decisions about who is mentally ill enough to be barred from purchasing firearms. Opponents of repeal believe the rule is necessary to keep guns away from those with mental disorders.
However, some in the press would like you to believe that Republicans just allowed the mentally ill to buy guns willy-nilly. For example, taxpayer-funded National Public Radio titled their story “House Votes To Overturn Obama Rule Restricting Gun Sales To the Severely Mentally Ill.” The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and UPI, among many others, had similarly misleading headlines.
The notion that Republicans voted to allow guns to be sold to the mentally ill on Thursday is absurd. What they did do is prevent from going into effect an Obama rule that denies Social Security disability recipients due process.
Charles C.W. Cooke writes at National Review that opposition to the rule came from across the political spectrum:
The House did indeed reverse an Obama-era rule yesterday afternoon, but that rule was neither “gun-buyers must obtain background checks” nor “the mentally ill are barred from buying guns,” and the measure was by no means an NRA initiative. The NRA was supportive, of course — that’s why it exists. But so was the American Civil Liberties Union. So were a host of disability groups. So was much of the medical community. And, unusually for a Second Amendment question, this one didn’t break down along the usual political lines.
The ACLU even sent a letter to Congress in opposition to the Obama rule:
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. 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. The rule further demonstrates the damaging phenomenon of “spread,” or the perception that a disabled individual with one area of impairment automatically has additional, negative and unrelated attributes. Here, the rule automatically conflates one disability-related characteristic, that is, difficulty managing money, with the inability to safely possess a firearm.
The rule includes no meaningful due process protections prior to the SSA’s transmittal of names to the NICS database. The determination by SSA line staff that a beneficiary needs a representative payee to manage their money benefit is simply not an “adjudication” in any ordinary meaning of the word. Nor is it a determination that the person “[l]acks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs” as required by the NICS. Indeed, the law and the SSA clearly state that representative payees are appointed for many individuals who are legally competent.
The ACLU is a traditional supporter of gun control and it pointed that out in its letter to Congress. But their objection was to the lack of due process in the rule.
A similar controversy came up this summer when Congress debated barring gun purchases to those on the no-fly list. President Obama wanted to deny Americans their constitutional rights without due process because the government had placed them on a secret list. Groups from all across the political spectrum rose in opposition and defeated it.
Once again, the press has its own “fake news” problem. No wonder no one trusts the media.