People who get Social Security disability payments by dint of mental impairment and who need help to manage their finances are so dangerous they shouldn’t be able to buy firearms, the Obama administration said in a new proposal published Thursday that could add millions of people to the lists of banned gun owners.
Disability and gun rights advocates said it was a dangerous proposal that threatened to strip constitutional rights from a large number of people, and they vowed to fight it.
But the Social Security Administration said it has a duty under a 2007 law to start sending information from its files to the list of banned purchasers.
Under the new scheme, those who get disability payments because of mental impairment, and who also have someone designated to handle their finances because of their mental impairment, will be deemed too unstable to buy a gun. Their names will be listed in the National Instant Background Check System, which every licensed firearms dealer must check before selling a gun to a customer.
Social Security didn’t provide an estimate of how many people would be affected, but independent calculations suggest there are millions of people receiving benefits who have a “representative payee” managing their affairs.
The public will have 60 days to comment on the rule, and then Social Security will take those comments into account.
It’s already drawing strong opposition from a powerful mix of groups, particularly disability advocates, who called the move “extremely offensive” and based on broad generalizations.
Cheryl Bates-Harris at the National Disability Rights Network said there’s no evidence connecting someone’s ability to manage finances with being a dangerous gun owner. She said drawing that connection was stigmatizing and stereotyping those with disabilities.
Just as troubling is that Social Security isn’t very good at deciding who should get a representative payee, she said. That means government will be denying the gun-buying rights of people who never should have been on the list in the first place.
“We come across beneficiaries all the time who have rep-payees and don’t need them,” she said.
Gun-rights groups have also vowed to register their objections.
“They are set to strip away your constitutional rights just because you meet a set of criteria established by a group of faceless bureaucrats you’ll never meet,” said Jennifer Baker, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. “That puts thousands of Americans in the terrible position of choosing whether to pay their bills or give up their constitutional rights.”
She said there’s no requirement that the government ever make any individual determination on those it strips of gun rights.
Instead, the administration says it will create an appeal after the fact, so those who have already ended up on the banned-purchaser list can ask to be taken off it. Those on the list could also challenge the situation in court, Social Security said in its proposal.
In its proposal, the Social Security Administration signaled it won’t go back and apply the rule retroactively to people already deemed disabled, but will apply it to everyone going forward — including those cases where Social Security conducts a re-review of a previous decision.
Rep. Sam Johnson, chairman of a subcommittee overseeing Social Security, has introduced legislation that would prevent Social Security from using its disability determinations to compile the anti-gun buying list.
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