Two hundred and thirty-five representatives, mostly Republicans, decided that an estimated 75,000 people with mental disabilities so severe that they can’t manage their own benefits really, really need a gun.
The ACLU’s position on that was:
“On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), we urge members of the House of Representatives to support the resolution disapproving the final rule of the Social Security Administration which implements the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Amendment Acts of 2007.
In December 2016, the SSA promulgated a final rule that would require the names of all Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit recipients — who, because of a mental impairment, use a representative payee to help manage their benefits — be submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used during gun purchases.
We oppose this rule because it advances and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent. There is no data to support a connection between the need for a representative payee to manage one’s Social Security disability benefits and a propensity toward gun violence. The rule further demonstrates the damaging phenomenon of “spread,” or the perception that a disabled individual with one area of impairment automatically has additional, negative and unrelated attributes. Here, the rule automatically conflates one disability-related characteristic, that is, difficulty managing money, with the inability to safely possess a firearm.
The rule includes no meaningful due process protections prior to the SSA’s transmittal of names to the NICS database. The determination by SSA line staff that a beneficiary needs a representative payee to manage their money benefit is simply not an “adjudication” in any ordinary meaning of the word. Nor is it a determination that the person “[l]acks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs” as required by the NICS. Indeed, the law and the SSA clearly state that representative payees are appointed for many individuals who are legally competent.
We recognize that enacting new regulations relating to firearms can raise difficult questions. The ACLU believes that the right to own and use guns is not absolute or free from government regulation, since firearms are inherently dangerous instrumentalities and their use, unlike other activities protected by the Bill of Rights, can inflict serious bodily injury or death. Therefore, firearms are subject to reasonable regulation in the interests of public safety, crime prevention, maintaining the peace, environmental protection, and public health. We do not oppose regulation of firearms as long as it is reasonably related to these legitimate government interests.
At the same time, regulation of firearms and individual gun ownership or use must be consistent with civil liberties principles, such as due process, equal protection, freedom from unlawful searches, and privacy. All individuals have the right to be judged on the basis of their individual capabilities, not the characteristics and capabilities that are sometimes attributed (often mistakenly) to any group or class to which they belong. A disability should not constitute grounds for the automatic per se denial of any right or privilege, including gun ownership.”