Petraeus, other former military leaders oppose bill to let mentally ill veterans get guns
By NICOLE GAUDIANO | USA Today | Published: March 14, 2017
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — A coalition of retired admirals and generals, including former CIA director and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, are protesting “irresponsible and dangerous” legislation they say would put mentally ill veterans in harm’s way by giving them easy access to firearms.
The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from reporting veterans' records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System after they’ve been deemed incapable of managing their financial affairs because of a disabling mental disorder. The bill would prohibit the VA from considering such veterans “mentally defective” without a magistrate or judicial authority ruling that the beneficiary is a danger to himself or herself or others.
In a Tuesday letter, members of the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense urged House and Senate leaders to oppose the bill. The House is expected to take it up on Thursday.
“The bill you are debating comes at a time when an average of 20 veterans commit suicide each day, two-thirds of whom do so by using a firearm. We know that non-deployed veterans are at a 61 percent higher risk of suicide compared to the American civilian population, and deployed veterans are at a 41 percent higher risk,” they wrote. “When vulnerable veterans have access to firearms, they can do harm not only to themselves but also to family members and loved ones. The impact of these tragedies is felt in communities across our nation.”
The coalition is a national initiative launched by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband Mark Kelly, a Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut. The letter is signed by 14 veterans representing all branches of the military.
Along with Petraeus, they include the retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, USCG; Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli; Army Gen. Wesley Clark; Army Gen. Michael V. Hayden; Army Gen. James T. Hill; Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal; Navy Admiral Eric T. Olson; Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling; Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré; Army Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy; Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip; Navy Rear Admiral James “Jamie” A. Barnett; and Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Cheney.
The bill is backed by the National Rifle Association, which says it protects veterans from having their rights “arbitrarily revoked by a government bureaucrat.”
“Receiving assistance to handle personal finances does not mean an individual is unable to safely own a firearm,” NRA lobbyist Chris Cox said in a statement. “Our brave men and women in the military should not be stripped of their constitutional rights without due process of law."
Last month, President Trump signed legislation to overturn a similar rule barring gun ownership for some Social Security Administration beneficiaries who require a representative to manage their finances because of a mental impairment.
Because the VA bill would be applied retroactively, it would require the FBI to purge more than 174,000 records of mentally ill service members who require a fiduciary. Among them are 19,000 who suffer from schizophrenia and another 15,000 with severe post traumatic stress disorder, the coalition wrote.
“For these individuals, possession of a firearm could be fatal,” they wrote.