Congress is poised to unravel one of the Obama administration’s midnight regulations that could prevent certain Social Security disability beneficiaries from buying guns.
The Social Security Administration finalized a rule just before Christmas 2016 in which it would send information of recipients of disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income to the Justice Department’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
This is triggered if the agency determines someone else is managing a recipient’s finances because the recipient isn’t mentally fit to manage their own affairs.
“No American should be denied their constitutional rights because someone else handles their finances,” @RepAbraham says.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., helped advocate possible elimination of the gun control rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations imposed in the last six months of an outgoing administration.
“This issue really can be boiled down to one point: No American should be denied their constitutional rights because someone else handles their finances,” Abraham told The Daily Signal in a statement.
“Allowing bureaucrats at the Social Security Administration to determine whether or not beneficiaries are fit to exercise their Second Amendment rights is a clear violation of due process, and I’m pleased the Congressional Review Act will give us the opportunity to right this wrong with passage of this joint resolution,” Abraham added.
— Rep. Ralph Abraham (@RepAbraham) January 25, 2017
Under the rule finalized on Dec. 19, the Social Security Administration would first have to determine if someone else is handling a beneficiary’s affairs. The rule states:
At the commencement of the adjudication process we will also notify individuals, both orally and in writing, of their possible federal prohibition on possessing or receiving firearms, the consequences of such prohibition, the criminal penalties for violating the Gun Control Act, and the availability of relief from the prohibition on the receipt or possession of firearms imposed by federal law.
Former President Barack Obama’s White House announced a package of executive actions in January 2016 that said:
The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
The National Rifle Association credited Abraham, Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., for pushing the rule into the Congressional Review Act.
“Protecting Americans’ fundamental rights is a top priority for Whip Scalise, and that includes undoing this Obama-era power grab against our Second Amendment rights,” Scalise spokesman Chris Bond told The Daily Signal in an email. “After eight years of an Obama administration that showed disrespect for our constitution, this unified Republican government is going to take power away from unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and work hard to restore Americans’ liberties.”
The regulation has the backing of gun control groups.
Elizabeth Avore, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group created by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argued in July, as part of the public comment period, the rule was needed to keep guns away from the mentally ill. Her comment said:
As is required for a finding to be prohibiting, [Social Security Administration] officials have determined in these cases that the person “lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs,” and, under the proposed language, these incapacity findings will only be prohibiting if they are made due to mental illness. … The rule does not reach any beneficiaries who are assigned a representative payee due to physical incapability or for reasons other than legal or mental incompetence.
A spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety had nothing to add to the matter when reached by The Daily Signal.
Johnson said he has been dedicated to defending the Constitution from his time in the military through Congress.
“Former President Obama’s last-ditch effort on gun control that would harm Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities is wrong,” Johnson told The Daily Signal in a statement. “I opposed it from the get-go, fought to stop it, and am encouraged by the support of the National Rifle Association, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Rights Task Force, and the National Council on Disability on this issue. I look forward to overturning the rule soon.”
Denial of a constitutional right is not something that should ever be decided administratively, said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
“No administrative process and no administrative law judge should be able to take away a constitutional right,” von Spakovsky said. “This should exclusively be a regular court of law to determine if someone is disabled enough to pose a hazard with a gun, not a federal bureaucrat.”
The National Rifle Association celebrated the congressional review as a victory.
“Congress’s decision to review the Obama administration’s backdoor gun grab is a significant step forward in protecting a fundamental constitutional right for law-abiding gun owners,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, in a public statement. “The NRA has been fighting this unconstitutional government overreach since it was first discussed and we look forward to swift congressional action.”