“A+”-rated* Sen. John Cornyn has the National Rifle Association’s backing for a “modest” bill “that would reward states for sending more information about residents with serious mental problems to the federal background check system for firearms purchasers,” Fox News is reporting. The legislation is generating no small amount of debate among gun rights advocates, with some supporting it as a pragmatic move designed to thwart more draconian proposals, and others characterizing it as a preemptive surrender (and worse).
Without getting into that debate, because there will be plenty of others weighing in on both sides, I’d instead like to just ask a few questions that all who are interested in due process ought to be interested in seeing answered. By way of disclosure, my longstanding contention is that anyone who can’t be trusted with a gun can’t be trusted without a custodian, but that’s not likely to be reflected in social policy anytime soon, so it’s not the focus here.
Backers of the bill tell us “due process” protections will be increased for veterans and others under Cornyn’s bill. Per his spokesman, “This bill codifies into law that individuals must get their day in court they’re entitled to, and no agency or state can make their own determination without that.”
It would help if we knew what protections equivalent to those provided in a jury trial that will provide. Specifically, will decisions rely on those who may have biases of their own, as can currently be the case, with ATF’s “clarifying the term ‘adjudicated as a mental defective’ to mean a determination by a court, board, commission or other lawful authority,” and with some states applying even broader “standards”?
What protections will exist to offset politically-connected anti-gun judges, politically-appointed boards, and “expert” adherents of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Position Statement on Firearm Access, Acts of Violence and the Relationship to Mental Illness and Mental Health Services.” It’s fair to ask, because APA includes in its advocacy platform registration-enabling, background checks, “smart” guns, storage requirements, “gun-free” zones, doctor-patient boundary violations, tax-funded anti-gun “studies,” all outside the scope of the training and credentialing of those making these proposals.
Significantly though, even APA admits:
Only a small proportion of individuals with a mental disorder pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.
Casting a wide net and leaving the shot-calling up to those with subjective political motivations has historical precedence – predominantly in “gun control” havens.
Also of interest – or it should be – how will rights be restored when there is no longer a compelling mental health prescription to deny them? What universal appeal mechanism – affordable to all, not just to elites for whom money is no object – will exist to declare a person is once more “eligible” to keep and bear arms? What guarantees are there that the same biases that colored the disability ruling in the first place won’t reassert themselves in the “parole” process? And have we identified psychiatric evaluators, risk management administrators and insurers who will be willing to subject themselves to malpractice liabilities should a person deemed “fit” be misdiagnosed? Or will the pressure be to “err on the side of caution”?
An impartial analysis would be helpful here, one addressing protections in initial and subsequent disability determinations, and that unequivocally explains specifics. To do that, we need to read the bill and see if these concerns are even addressed.
At this writing, the legislative tracking website GovTrack does not provide the text of the bill, but does note it has been referred to committee, where it has a 10% chance of going to the floor, and where it then has a 2% chance of passing. Assuming the people who posted that have the experience monitoring things to make authoritative predictions, we can only speculate if those numbers are expected to change, or if this is all a noisy exercise in election prep and political posturing.
Calls to Cornyn’s multiple offices go directly to invitations to leave a message (I’m told his switchboards have been melting down), so I haven’t been able to reach an aide to ask for a copy, nor have any RKBA advocacy contacts I’ve asked seen the actual text. This column will update with a link when I get one.
* Cornyn is currently rated “B” by Gun Owners of America.