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EDITORIAL: Mentally Ill Should Not Have Guns

Hartford Courant - 2/17/2017

Feb. 17--In an irrational rush to defend the Second Amendment, the Republican-led U.S. House and Senate voted this week to do away with a simple, reasonable rule that allows the Social Security Administration to inform the attorney general of severely mentally disabled people who, by law, are forbidden from owning or buying guns.

The rule is in perfect compliance with existing law, and getting rid of it to please the powerful gun lobby will be a mistake, as Connecticut can attest. It was written to protect society from the kind of violence that happened here in 2012, when a mentally ill young man used legal weapons to massacre 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The rule, which would have affected 75,000 Social Security recipients who are so disabled that they need other people to handle their finances, was set to go into effect in December. It was written to comply with a 2007 amendment to the Brady Act, which states that federal agencies such as the SSA must notify the attorney general of anyone who "who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution" for inclusion on the list of people who are prohibited from owning or buying guns.

The SSA is uniquely qualified to determine who fits in that group. It has a thorough process for establishing whether someone who seeks disability benefits is severely mentally disabled. The decision to assign another person to handle the beneficiary's finances is based on medical evidence, statements from relatives and physicians and more, according to the rule.

Many criteria would have to be met before the SSA could put a person's name on the background check list that would forbid them from buying guns.

This was not an attempt to take away guns indiscriminately. It was an effort to comply with a law that protects people from gun violence.

Objections include concerns that not all people with mental disabilities pose a risk. But if a person is so severely mentally disabled that he lacks the faculties necessary to handle basic finances, it's sensible to restrict his access to dangerous weapons. The rule includes a reasonable appeals process for those who can handle guns despite their disabilities.

The rule's demise is ironic, considering that Republicans have argued that the best way to control gun violence is by addressing mental health issues. This rule did exactly that.

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(c)2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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