Guns for the mentally incompetent

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Of all the measures to improve gun safety, background checks are among the most reasonable and popular. House Republicans lost no time this week in voting to weaken them.
A bill approved on a mostly party-line vote in the House would rescind a rule on gun background checks that was initiated by the Barack Obama administration in 2012 and finalized in December. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill after its likely passage by the Senate.
The rule requires the Social Security Administration to submit records to the gun background check system for an estimated 75,000 beneficiaries annually who, due to mental illness, cannot work at all and require a representative to manage their Social Security benefits. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits gun possession by the “mentally defective.”
Advocates for the mentally ill caution that mental illness should not be equated with a penchant for violence. They’re right. But America’s tragic experience with mentally ill gunmen — from Virginia Tech in 2007 to Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 — shows the folly of simply dismissing the danger.
In recent years Republicans have prioritized instant gratification for anyone who desires to purchase a gun. Last year the National Rifle Association spent $50 million on the campaigns of Donald Trump and six Republican senators. NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, who met with Trump this week, wants payback.
The Obama rule established a process for identifying only Social Security beneficiaries who would be prohibited from possessing guns under existing law. It required that beneficiaries be notified of the prohibition, and it provided means to appeal the determination before an administrative law judge or a federal court.
Such provisions would safeguard individual rights. But they offend the fundamental principle that drives NRA, and thus Republican, gun politics: Anyone should be able to get a gun at any time for any reason and bring that weapon, loaded, anywhere. As this latest foray in extremism makes clear, that principle applies even to the mentally incompetent.

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