Posted on Aug 18, 2015

Some Social Security disability recipients may be barred from owning guns, if an Obama administration’s proposal is accepted. Proposed new rules denying permission to purchase guns would apply to beneficiaries who lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. The ban would apply to people who—in the language of federal gun laws—have diminished mental capabilities, marked subnormal intelligence, mental illness, (or) incompetency.”

The president’s proposal does not clarify how those people would be singled out, but Social Security could use a method already in use by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, vets who have been declared incompetent to manage pension or disability payments and have been assigned a representative to keep tabs on their financial affairs are red-flagged in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and are barred from purchasing firearms. The VA and the Department of Justice have come under fire from veterans’ advocates and some members of Congress for these background check procedures.

The application of competency testing for Social Security disability beneficiaries could affect more than four million Americans whose benefits are managed by “representative payees.”

But, as reported in The L.A. Times, “critics — including gun-rights activists, mental-health experts and advocates for the disabled — say that expanding the list of people prohibited from owning guns based on financial competence is wrongheaded. Though such a ban would keep at least some people who pose a danger to themselves or others from owning guns, the strategy also would include numerous people who may just have bad memories or difficulty balancing checkbooks, the critics argue.’ Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe,’ said Dr. Marc Rosen, a Yale psychiatrist who has studied how veterans with mental-health problems manage their money. ‘They are very different determinations.’ ”

In defending the proposed background check procedures, the Obama administration contends that it would keep guns out of the hands of some dangerous people. This proposal, they say, is part of an overall strategy to strengthen gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska