In return for helping to secure the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the NRA had its Congressional toadies undo a Presidential Executive Action which mandated removing guns from people receiving disability benefits for mental disorders. The NRA has been braying about the need to ‘fix’ the mental health system in lieu of expanding background checks to secondary gun transfers, but this didn’t stop America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ from leading the charge to protect mentally-disabled gun owners who otherwise might have been separated from their guns.
As usual, the NRA’s statement about this issue was nothing short of a complete and total fabrication as to whether Obama’s action was based on anything other than the former President’s hatred of guns. The action said that people who receive Social Security Administration (SSA) disability payments for mental disorders and, more important, have an ‘assigned representative’ who manages their financial affairs, would be reported to FBI-NICS and therefore could not purchase or own guns. Did this new procedure spring from the deranged brain of our 44th President as the NRA would like everyone to believe? In fact, it is found in the criteria for legal gun ownership as defined by the ATF, and the ATF has been using this criteria for years.
Remember a little ATF form known as the 4473? This is the form that everyone must fill out when purchasing a gun from a federally-licensed gun dealer, and it is the form which the gun dealer then uses to conduct the instant background check by contacting FBI-NICS. And here’s the relevant text from Question 11f: “Have you ever been adjudicated a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?” And this question is then explained in a footnote to the 4473 form which says that such an individual has been found by a ‘lawful authority’ to lack the mental capacity “to contract or manage his own affairs.”
Now between 2001 and 2014 I sold more than 12,000 guns in my retail store, and every, single sale required the purchaser to fill out a 4473. And not a single person who ever bought a gun in my shop ever answered Question 11f by saying ‘yes.’ So when the NRA Congressional toadies rolled back Obama’s Order which required that the Social Security Administration simply comply with what the ATF has been requiring for many years, I decided to take a look at how the SSA actually defines these mental disabilities which would prevent such folks from owning guns.
The definitions of mental disability employed by the SSA, which then allow an individual to receive disability benefits, are found in an SSA publication, ‘Disability Evaluation Under Social Security,’ which can be read here. These mental disabilities are divided into 11 separate categories (neurocognitive, schizophrenic, depressive, etc.) but in every category, a determining factor is whether the individual can ‘function independently,’ which certainly precludes anyone who can’t manage their own financial affairs.
When the SSA initially issued this ruling on May 5, 2016, and invited everyone and anyone to submit comments which were summarized when the rule was finalized on December 19, 2016. The SSA received 91,000 comments of which 86,000 were identical statements sent in by members of ‘one advocacy group’ whose identity you can use to test if you or anyone you know is mentally impaired.
I’m not a mental health professional so I’m not going to get into the question about whether people who are mentally impaired are threats to themselves or others if they own guns. If you want to understand this issue, try reading an important collection of scholarly articles edited by Robert Simon and Liza Gold. But what I find interesting is the NRA’s ability to mount a successful campaign about this issue and generate a huge public outcry even though their position simply isn’t true. But the NRA now has a friend in the White House whose public statements and policies also appear to scrupulously avoid any connection to facts or the truth. So we’ll see what we see.