Photographer: Dominick Reuter/AFP via Getty Images

Obama Gun Rule Among First Rules Targeted by GOP Congress

  • Republicans launching effort to undo late Obama regulations
  • Rule aimed to bolster mental health part of background checks

Republicans in Congress began a process Thursday of rescinding a federal rule aimed at preventing people with serious mental-health problems from buying guns, one of the earliest targets in a long list of Obama administration regulations lawmakers plan to reverse.

Gun-rights groups and some mental-health advocates say the rule, approved in December, was overly broad, established a flawed standard and violated peoples’ due-process rights. 

The House voted 235-180 to disapprove the rule. Republicans are using a special procedure under the Congressional Review Act to undo regulations put in place during the last six months of a previous administration using expedited procedures. The mechanism allows the Senate to circumvent the 60-vote threshold, which means it can be passed without Democratic support.

The rule Republicans want to reverse requires the Social Security Administration to report any beneficiaries deemed incapable of managing their benefits to the national background check system, which the FBI uses to determine eligibility to buy firearms. 

“This rule allows for bureaucrats to strip disabled people of their Second Amendment rights without due process,” Representative Ralph Abraham, a Louisiana Republican and one of the bill’s 119 Republican co-sponsors in the House, said in a statement. “The Constitution applied to all Americans, including disabled Americans, and I’m glad to see that Congress is acting swiftly to defend it.”

School Shootings

The original rule was a reaction to school shootings like the 2012 Sandy Hook attack.

“Far too many have lost their lives to preventable gun violence," Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said on the floor Wednesday. "This rule is intended to keep firearms out of the hands of those suffering from severe mental illness. That’s a common-sense idea that I think we all should agree on."

During Monday night’s Rules Committee meeting on the resolution to reverse it, Rhode Island Democratic Representative David Cicilline called the measure a "shameful" concession to special interests.

"It’s nothing short of a handout to the gun lobby," Cicilline said.

McGovern and other House Democrats took issue both with the specific plan to roll back the rules and the GOP’s overarching plan to use the Congressional Review Act to undo a swath of Obama administration rules, including ones related to labor laws, the environment, and the financial sector. 

Cutting regulations has been a priority of President Donald Trump, who on Monday signed an executive order requiring agencies to rescind two regulations for every new one introduced.

Widespread Opposition

Several gun-rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, opposed the Social Security Administration rule, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of those affected. 

“The NRA has been fighting this unconstitutional government overreach since it was first discussed and we look forward to swift congressional action,” Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, wrote in a statement last week.

The Social Security Administration reporting rule also was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and several mental-health advocates, who were critical of the standard it uses to determine which beneficiaries are reported. The rule calls on the Social Security Administration to report beneficiaries who require a “representative payee” to manage their finances, while opponents argue the administration should focus on people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities argued in a Jan. 26 letter to Congress that “current public dialogue is replete with inaccurate stereotyping of people with mental disabilities as violent and dangerous, and there is a real concern that the kind of policy change encompassed by this rule will reinforce those unfounded assumptions.”

Under the Congressional Review Act, both the House and the Senate must pass resolutions of disapproval on the rule. While introducing his resolution on the Senate floor Monday, Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, echoed both arguments against the regulation, saying it "unfairly stigmatizes people with disabilities" and "violates the fundamental nature of the Second Amendment."

"The federal government under the Obama administration treated Social Security recipients with contempt and total disregard when this rule was put out," Grassley said.

Republicans in both chambers of Congress have stressed that their opposition to the rule is centered on both the Second Amendment and the rights of the disabled.

The rule was part of a larger effort by former President Barack Obama to strengthen background checks in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six teachers. 

After gun-control legislation stalled, Obama released a 23-point presidential memo that instructed federal agencies to present relevant information to the federal background-check system. Requiring the Social Security Administration to send information on beneficiaries with a representative payee would have brought the agency in line with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which uses a similar standard of reporting.

Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, is an advocate of assault-weapon restrictions and serves on the advisory board of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group.

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