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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Are PTSD Veterans Slated to Lose Their Right to Possess Firearms?

I haven't peered deeply enough into this issue, but I've been hearing bits and pieces of this story for the past couple of months. The following explanation of this hot button issue is from a Military.com column by VAWatchdog.org editor Larry Scott:

There is no such thing as the “Veterans Disarmament Act.” There is no pending legislation that would take firearms away from veterans. There is no pending legislation that would prevent a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), veteran or not, from purchasing a firearm or ammo.

But, there is a huge campaign of misinformation and scare tactics being forwarded by a small gun owners group who view themselves to be in competition with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Let’s use some common sense instead of nonsense. If veterans were to lose the right to own firearms, you’d have a lot of unemployed cops. If those who have PTSD were to lose that right, there’d be even more unemployed cops and other first responders, as well. The arguments about a “Veterans Disarmament Act” are, quite simply, ridiculous and illogical.

The piece of legislation is question is H.R. 2640, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007. H.R. 2640 was carefully-crafted by the NRA and Members of Congress to protect the rights of gun owners, especially those who may have mental health issues such as PTSD.

Alert: Tell your public officials how you feel about this legislation.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Continuing:

The NICS is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the database that contains the names of those not allowed to buy firearms and ammo. There are nine specific groups of persons who are included in the database.

Included is anyone "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution." "Any mental institution" would, obviously, include a VA hospital mental ward. And, the government's definition of a "mental defective" is: “A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease: (1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or (2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs. The term shall include a finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case.”

The confusion over H.R. 2640 and veterans, especially veterans with PTSD, began in 2000 when the VA gave the names of between 83,000 and 89,000 veterans to the NICS database. The names were of veterans who had been committed to VA psychiatric wards or who had been adjudicated as a “mental defective.” This was required of all government agencies.

Some thought that any veteran with a mental health issue ended up on the NICS list. That is an absurd assumption. If a veteran tries to quit smoking and goes to VA smoking cessation classes, they are in a mental health program because nicotine is considered an addictive substance. The same applies for those seeking treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. And, we know, these veterans did not end up in the NICS database.

Neither current law nor H.R. 2640 would put any person, including veterans, who have sought psychiatric treatment or voluntarily checked themselves into a psychiatric unit on the NICS list. This includes those with PTSD, those seeking treatment for alcohol or drug abuse and those who have voluntarily sought help and been admitted for observation, sometimes termed a “voluntary commitment.”

So, why all the noise about H.R. 2640? Some feel the small gun owners group is just looking for members. Others feel they have some kind of beef with the NRA. Whatever the reason, the misinformation and scare tactics should be considered for exactly what they are.

The NRA (which supports H.R. 2640), in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings that killed over 30 students, realized that current firearms legislation had some real problems. People who should be in the NICS database, like the Virginia Tech shooter, were left out. And, just as important, the NRA knew that some people who shouldn’t be in the database had been included and there was no way for them to get their names of the NICS list. Also, some believe there is wiggle-room in the current regulations that can allow government agencies to “interpret” them incorrectly. The NRA set out to solve those problems, and they did. ...

The bottom line for veterans concerned about H.R. 2640 is to just use some common sense. Read the legislation. You may not agree with it. But, if you’re a veteran or you have been diagnosed with PTSD, don’t worry, they aren’t coming for your firearms. The NRA put it correctly when they said, “H.R. 2640 is NOT gun control legislation.” It is legislation designed to end inequities in the current laws that have unfairly prevented many from purchasing firearms and ammo.

Please read the rest of the piece.

Protections built into H.R. 2640:

(1) IN GENERAL- No department or agency of the Federal Government may provide to the Attorney General any record of an adjudication or determination related to the mental health of a person, or any commitment of a person to a mental institution if--

(A) the adjudication, determination, or commitment, respectively, has been set aside or expunged, or the person has otherwise been fully released or discharged from all mandatory treatment, supervision, or monitoring;

(B) the person has been found by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to no longer suffer from the mental health condition that was the basis of the adjudication, determination, or commitment, respectively, or has otherwise been found to be rehabilitated through any procedure available under law; or

(C) the adjudication, determination, or commitment, respectively, is based solely on a medical finding of disability, without a finding that the person is a danger to himself or to others or that the person lacks the mental capacity to manage his own affairs.

Please note again that a person cannot be put on the NICS list solely for a "medical finding of disability,” and that would include PTSD.

Also, H.R. 2640 will provide a means for a person to take their name off the NICS list if they should not be on it, something they cannot do at this time. That provision reads:

(A) PROGRAM FOR RELIEF FROM DISABILITIES- Each department or agency of the United States that makes any adjudication or determination related to the mental health of a person or imposes any commitment to a mental institution, as described in subsection (d)(4) and (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code, shall establish a program that permits such a person to apply for relief from the disabilities imposed by such subsections. Relief and judicial review shall be available according to the standards prescribed in section 925(c) of title 18, United States Code.

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