Republicans Move to Reverse Obama Admin’s Last-Minute Social Security Gun Ban

Reversal supported by NRA, ACLU, mental health groups

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• February 3, 2017 3:27 pm


The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday reversing a gun rule adopted by the Social Security Administration in the final days of the Obama administration.

"Today we put a stop to one of the Obama administration's many attempts to legislate through regulation," Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas) said in a statement. "The Social Security Administration not only overstepped its mission with this regulation, it discriminated against certain Americans with disabilities who receive Social Security benefits. The agency should be focused on serving all of its beneficiaries, not picking and choosing whose 2nd Amendment rights to deny."

The rule, which went into effect in late December, requires the Social Security Administration to report individuals whose benefits are managed by a representative payee and who meet other criteria to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Those reported to the NICS are prevented from legally purchasing or possessing firearms.

The rule was watered down from the original proposal reported by the Los Angeles Times, which potentially applied to millions of Social Security recipients whose finances are managed by a representative payee, a plan similar to one implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Still, the rule that was implemented could affect tens of thousands of Americans on Social Security.

The rule applies to individuals age 18 to 65 who have been assigned a representative payee because Social Security determined they were incapable of managing their benefits and have been designated as disabled by the administration due to a mental impairment. The Social Security Administration notifies individuals affected by the rule over the phone and in writing. These individuals can challenge their designation, but only after their records have been submitted to NICS.

Groups from across the ideological spectrum have supported the rule's reversal. Gun activists believe the rule is an infringement on the Second Amendment, while civil rights groups see it as an attack on due process and mental health activists think it stigmatizes individuals with mental health issues.

"The Obama administration's last minute, back-door gun grab would have stripped law-abiding citizens of their constitutional right to self-defense without due process," Chris W. Cox, head of the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, said in a statement.

Top ACLU officials wrote to congress urging the reversal of the rule.

"The rule includes no meaningful due process protections prior to the SSA's transmittal of names to the NICS database," the group said in their letter. "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 National Council on Disability, Consortium for Citizens With Disabilities, and National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery each submitted letters in support of reversing the rule during hearings in the Ways and Means Committee.

"There is, simply put, no nexus between the inability to manage money and the ability to safely and responsibly own, possess or use a firearm," the National Council on Disability said, echoing what the other groups have said. "This arbitrary linkage not only unnecessarily and unreasonably deprives individuals with disabilities of a constitutional right, it increases the stigma for those who, due to their disabilities, may need a representative payee."

The Senate is expected to take up a resolution reversing the gun rule in the coming weeks. The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa)

Published under: Guns