COLUMN: Rule Reversal Protects Due Process and Second Amendment Rights

February 14, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

In December, at the very end of the Obama administration, federal officials finalized a rule that could limit the ability of some seniors who receive Social Security benefits to exercise their Second Amendment rights. The federal rule, submitted by the Social Security Administration (SSA), deals with the implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007. The rule would require the SSA to submit to NICS the information of anyone who receives Social Security and requests assistance managing their benefits. Many Social Security recipients select this assistance so that their family members also have access and request information on their behalf. This overbroad rule would create an undue burden on the rights of as many as four million Social Security beneficiaries, and it should be nullified by Congress.

In Washington state, an “extreme risk protection orders” law was recently approved by voters to allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to prohibit an individual who poses “a significant danger” from possessing a firearm. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has raised due process concerns about the state law because it restricts constitutional rights while placing the burden of proof on an accused individual: “It is unclear how persons would prove their lack of danger,” is one of the arguments posed by the ACLU. 

The Obama administration’s rule would apply even more broadly than our state law. It would affect law-abiding citizens who receive Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income but require help managing those benefits, potentially endangering their Second Amendment rights.

The American Association of People with Disabilities stated that rule’s method used “to identify people who are likely to commit gun violence is a useless and harmful proposal” that “unfairly stigmatizes millions of Americans with disabilities who make tremendous contributions to our society and pose no threat of violence.” The association even goes as far as to say that the rule might discourage individuals from acknowledging potential mental disabilities.

Federal law already prohibits the sale of firearms to individuals with a history of mental illness who may be a danger to themselves or others. But whether a Social Security recipient requests help in managing finances is much too broad a brush to use to cause anyone to lose the ability to exercise Second Amendment rights.

I recently supported House passage of House Joint Resolution 40 to nullify this restrictive final rule. This flawed rule will be revoked and thus protect the constitutional rights of Americans.