NRA-Backed Cornyn Bill Would Give Due Process Rights to Veterans Denied Guns

Would also push states to include more mental health records in background check system

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August 5, 2015

A bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) and supported by the National Rifle Association would implement due process procedures to allow veterans and others who have been denied guns to appeal the decision.

The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act would provide a number of new safeguards for those who have been added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as prohibited persons due to mental health issues.

The safeguards will keep federal agencies from "simply defining as 'prohibited persons' those who meet arbitrary criteria such as having a representative payee assigned to their account," according to a statement from Cornyn's office.

The statement specifically addresses veterans who have been added to NICS by the Veterans Administration (VA). It promises a new due process procedure that "will ensure that veterans who have been put into NICS will have the opportunity to have their cases individually reviewed and those who are not a danger to themselves or others will have their rights restored."

"Basically, right now some agencies like the VA make their own determination of mental illness and bypass the court process," Cornyn spokesperson Drew Brandewie told the Washington Free Beacon. "This bill codifies into law that individuals must get their day in court they’re entitled to, and no agency or state can make their own determination without that."

"The current statute is ambiguous, so our bill clarifies by saying individuals must have these things (notice, a judicial hearing, and a determination from a judge) before any government or federal agency can try to include them in NCIS. This bill actually strengthens Second Amendment rights in this way."

The NRA said the bill will stop the Obama administration's recent effort to add millions of Social Security beneficiaries to NICS in addition to helping veterans who have been denied firearms.

"There are important provisions in this legislation to stop the Obama administration from denying millions of veterans and Social Security recipients their Second Amendment rights for no other reason than they are unable or unwilling to manage their financial affairs," NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker told the Free Beacon.

As first reported by the Associated Press, the bill uses federal funding to encourage states to include more mental health records in NICS. The bill would increase certain federal grants by up to 5 percent for states that report at least 90 percent of the required mental health records to NICS. It would decrease those same grants by 5 percent for states that don't.

However, the bill also ties those funding levels to the state's implementation of the safeguards outlined by the law.

"In order for states to be NCIS compliant, the bill also requires states to have a 'relief from disabilities' program," Brandewie said. "What this means is if you lose your gun rights because you were determined to be mentally-ill, the state has to have a program in place to allow you the opportunity to restore your gun rights."

The bill would also provide funding for programs that screen criminal offenders for mental illnesses and specialized treatment programs for the mentally ill.