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COLUMN: Safeguard Veterans’ 2nd Amendment Rights

August 29, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

The 2nd Amendment is an individual right guaranteed to Americans in our Constitution. Especially after the fight for independence against the British, the Founders understood the importance of an armed citizenry. In Federalist Paper 46, James Madison pointed out that in Europe, “[T]he governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” Not so in America, where our founding documents protect citizens’ freedom to keep and bear arms.

Madison continued in Federalist 46 to argue in favor of Americans’ ability to defend themselves and their freedom: “Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors.”

For too many men and women who have served our country in uniform, however, the status quo does not protect due process and 2nd Amendment rights. Under the current system, if a veteran or beneficiary requires assistance managing their Veterans Administration benefits, the VA deems them “mentally incompetent.” Their name is then added to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS), even if they are not judged to be a danger to themselves or others. The burden is then placed on the veteran to appeal.

That is not how our system should work on behalf of our veterans.

These are real issues affecting constituents in the 4th District. My office has assisted veterans whose jobs were threatened by this decision. Recently a veteran from Central Washington who was receiving disability was faced with the potential forfeiture of his 2nd Amendment rights. He feared that losing the ability to carry weapons would have threatened his job in law enforcement. The case was closed successfully, however, and the VA did not find the veteran incompetent.

There are certainly individuals whose names should be added to NICS because they have been deemed a potential danger to themselves or others, but there are many thousands of veterans who are automatically blocked from exercising their constitutional rights without such a determination. These veterans deserve the dignity of being given the benefit of the doubt—and due process—before their right to bear arms is blocked by preventing them from purchasing or owning firearms.

I recently voted in support of House passage of H.R.1181, The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, which would require a judicial authority to determine whether a veteran is incapable of responsibly exercising their 2nd Amendment rights before the VA reports them to be added to NICS. Whether a veteran uses a fiduciary to manage their benefits does not indicate the lack of ability to exercise their constitutional freedoms.