Seeking tighter controls over firearm purchases, the Obama administration wants to ban Social Security beneficiaries from owning guns if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs, a move that could affect millions whose monthly disability payments are handled by others, reports the Chicago Tribune. The aim is to bring the Social Security Administration in line with laws regulating who gets reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used to prevent gun sales to felons, drug addicts, immigrants in the country illegally and others. A potentially large group within Social Security are people who, in the language of federal gun laws, are unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”
There is no simple way to identify that group, but a strategy used by the Department of Veterans Affairs since the creation of the background check system is reporting anyone who has been declared incompetent to manage pension or disability payments and assigned a fiduciary. If Social Security, which has never participated in the background check system, uses the same standard as the VA, millions of its beneficiaries would be affected. About 4.2 million adults receive monthly benefits that are managed by “representative payees.” Critics, including gun rights activists, mental health experts and advocates for the disabled, say that expanding the list of prohibited gun owners based on financial competence is wrongheaded. “Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe,” said Dr. Marc Rosen, a Yale psychiatrist who has studied how veterans with mental health problems manage their money.