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Bill could allow for expanded gun rights for veterans, but would it make Americans safer?

Posted at 2:56 PM, Mar 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-17 17:56:49-04

Who decides when a veteran is mentally unfit to carry a weapon?

The House of Representatives just passed a bill which could take that decision out of the VA's office and into the courtroom.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Ten., is passionate about that bill, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, which he introduced.

"It is outrageous that the only group of people that can have their constitutional rights taken away without a hearing before a judge or magistrate are the very people who fight for those rights and independence," he said.

Right now the Department of Veterans Affairs adds the names of veterans it deems mentally unfit to a federal background check system. Veterans on that list can't buy or own guns. But of the bill becomes law, a judge would make that decision.




Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., did not support the bill.

"We entrust our soldiers with the weapon while in uniform let's treat our veterans with the same expectations and standards of safety when they take off the uniform," Brown said.

He believes the VA determining a veteran to be mentally incompetent is meant to protect, not punish them.

"When that determination is made, we owe it to our veterans not to put a weapon in their hands but rather to put the full weight of a responsive mental health system at their disposal," Brown says.

One concern is it could raise the suicide rate among veterans. An average of 20 veterans committed suicide a day in 2014 according to the VA Suicide Prevention Program. And between 2001 and 2014, the VA found the suicide rate among U.S. veterans rose by more than 32 percent.

But it's not just veterans that could be put in harms' way. In January, veteran Esteban Santiago allegedly shot and killed five people at an airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was released from a hospital after complaining about hearing voices in late 2016.

Right now, about 170,000 disabled veterans are deemed mentally incompetent by the VA. The House bill now heads to the Senate, and if passed, could be signed into law by the President.