Image for representational purposes only.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to know why so many of our nation’s veterans are being barred from exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms.
In a letter dated this week to Attorney General Eric Holder, Grassley outlines his concerns that far too many veterans are being denied the right to purchase or own weapons due to an overly broad reporting policy adopted by the Department of Veterans Administration (VA). The senator noted that 99.3 percent of all names reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in “mental defective” category were supplied by the VA, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service Report.
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A 2013 senate report mirrored this percentage, finding that the VA reported 83,000 veterans as “mental defective.”
The standard the VA is supposed to use in reporting veterans to the NICS is whether the veteran poses a risk to himself and/or others. However, according to Grassley:
The VA reports individuals to the gun ban list if an individual merely needs financial assistance managing VA benefits. Although the VA process is not designed to regulate firearm ownership, it results in veterans and their loved ones being barred from exercising their fundamental, Constitutionally-guaranteed Second Amendment rights.
The senator explains that the burden of proof actually falls on the veteran, not the VA, in proving competency to manage his or her benefits; and wrapped up in that determination is the veteran’s ability to exercise his or her Second Amendment rights.
Regardless, Grassley argues that competency to manage financial benefits and meeting the standard of not posing a risk to themselves or others in owning firearms are two separate issues.
“A veteran or dependent shouldn’t lose their constitutional rights, because they need help with bookkeeping,” he said.
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In light of this current, overly broad VA reporting policy, the senator wants answers to the following questions from Holder:
1. Is the primary purpose of the NICS list to preclude firearm ownership and possession by individuals who are a danger to themselves and/or others? If not, what is the primary purpose of the NICS list?
2. Is the primary purpose of the VA’s reporting system to report the names of individuals who are appointed a fiduciary?
3. Out of all names on the NICS list, what percentage of them have been referred by the VA?
4. Do you believe that a veteran adjudicated as incompetent to manage finances and appointed a fiduciary is likewise mentally defective under the ATF standard? If so, what is the basis for that conclusion?
5. Does the standard employed by the VA to report names to the DOJ for subsequent placement on the NICS list comply with the protections of the Second Amendment? If so, please explain how, in light of due process concerns described above.
6. Given that the VA adjudication process can result in a complete infringement of a person’s fundamental Second Amendment right, do you believe that the use of the “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard is proper? If so, why?
7. Is the DOJ satisfied that all names reported from the VA for placement on the NICS are, in fact and in law, persons who should not own or possess a firearm because they are dangers to themselves and/or others? If so, what evidence supports that conclusion?
8. Given that 99.3% of all names in the NICS “mental defective” category are reported from the VA, has the DOJ reviewed the VA’s reporting standards and procedure? If so, please provide a copy of the review that took place. If no review took place, please explain why not.
9. What review process does DOJ have in place to ensure that names are properly on the NICS list?
10. How many individuals have appealed their placement on the NICS list? How many individuals were successful in their appeal?
11. In light of the fact that the Supreme Court has held the Second Amendment to be a fundamental right, has the DOJ changed any processes and procedures relating to the NICS system which were in existence prior to that holding?
12. Besides the VA, what other federal agencies have reported names to the NICS list since 2005? And how many names were reported by each agency since 2005?
Grassley requested that the attorney general have answers to his questions by April 30, 2015.
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