The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) not only “tightens sanctions on Iran and limits the president's authority in handling terror suspects,” the bill “authorizes money for weapons, aircraft and ships and provides a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.”
However, as The Washington Times reported Tuesday, the bill “hit an unexpected bump on its journey” when an amendment on veterans’ gun rights “devolved into a heated floor debate.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, wants veterans who have been deemed “mentally incompetent” to have their cases adjudicated by a judge — rather than the Department of Veterans Affairs, as happens currently — and argued that veterans who simply cannot support themselves financially are needlessly given the label and, as such, cannot buy or possess firearms.
Coburn amendment #3109 proposed "to protect the Second amendment rights of veterans" by revising Chapter 55 of title 38, United States Code, Sec. 5503.
In any case arising out of the administration by the Secretary of laws and benefits under this title, a person who is mentally incapacitated, deemed mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness shall not be considered adjudicated as a mental defective under subsection (d)(4) or (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18 without the order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction that such person is a danger to himself or herself or others.
“We’re not asking for anything big,” Coburn explained on the Senate floor Thursday. “We’re just saying that if you’re going to take away the Second Amendment rights -- they ought to have it adjudicated, rather than mandated by someone who’s unqualified to state that they should lose their rights.”
However, as soon as New York Democrat Sen. Charles E. Schumer discovered that Coburn’s pitch was part of a bundle of amendments tucked into the NDAA, he quickly objected.
“I love our veterans,” Schumer prefaced his opinion. “I vote for them all the time, they defend us.”
Despite his professions of “love” for “our veterans,” Schumer then equated military veterans withPost Traumatic Stress Disorder to convicted criminals.
But if you are mentally ill, whether you’re a veteran or not, just like if you’re a felon, if you’re a veteran or not, and you have been judged to be mentally infirm, you should not have a gun.
Against Schumer’s claim that he votes for them “all the time,” according to BradyCampaign.org, Schumer was one of three Democrats who “championed” the National Instant Check System Improvement Act of 2007. While the law “strengthens the Brady Law’s National Instant Check System (NICS)” and makes it “harder for criminals and other dangerous people to buy firearms,” it also strips veterans being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of their Second Amendment rights.
“As the first new federal gun control law in more than a decade,” the website explains, “it also helps lay the groundwork to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales.”
According to Schumer’s website, “writing and helping” to “pass” the Brady Bill is among what he considers to be his greatest “accomplishments” as a senator.
When a veteran is declared incompetent, the Veterans Administration (VA) appoints fiduciaries, often family members, to manage their pensions and disability benefits. Because of Schumer’s NICS Improvement Act of 2007, the VA also automatically enters the names of those veterans in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which prohibits them from buying or owning firearms.
Coburn sought to amend Chapter 55 of title 38, United States Code to prohibit the VA from entering those names into the system.
North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr proposed similar legislation -- the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act – in Oct. 2011.
“All I am saying,” Coburn said during Thursday’s Senate debate, “is let them at least have their day in court if you are going to take away a fundamental right given under the Constitution.”
“We’re talking about people who have some form of disability to the extent that they’re unable to manage their own affairs,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “If you’re deemed unable to handle your own affairs, that’s likely to constitute a high percentage of people who are dangerously mentally ill.”
According to a report released quietly by the Department of Veterans Affairs in September, 247,243 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were “coded with potential PTSD” between Oct. 1, 2001 and June 30, 2012.
Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said veterans with a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder but who pose no threat to others are possibly being barred from gun ownership.
"We want to remove these stigmas for mental health treatment. It's a combat injury," Tarantino said. "They wouldn't be doing this if you were missing your right hand, so they shouldn't be doing it if you're seeking treatment for post-traumatic-stress-disorder or traumatic brain injury."
“There’s more here, frankly, than just a refusal to allow an amendment,” The Washington Times quoted of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s intervention.
The late-night tussle served to pick at the scab of the ongoing debate over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bid to reform the chamber’s filibuster rules to place limits on the minority party’s ability to hold up debate on legislation.
“That is going to mean that it’s more likely that we have this showdown, which we think — many of us think — would be devastating to this institution and the way that it’s done business for a couple of hundred years.”
Coburn "eventually backed off."