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October 01, 2007

Gun Rights Hysteria: PTSD Vets to be Barred from Gun Ownership?

I hadn't heard about this before today, but apparently some people are pretty steamed about the NICS Improvement Amendments Act. Larry Pratt, the originator of this particular warning, makes some very troubling claims about what he has dubbed "the Veterans Disarmament Act."

Since these claims, if true, are almost certain to cause a clamor in the Right Blogosphere, and yet no outcry has been heard, I felt compelled to look a little closer. Here's what Pratt warns:

The Veterans Disarmament Act — which has already passed the House — would place any veteran who has ever been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the federal gun ban list.

That sounds like a serious problem, so I took a closer look at the bill, HR 2640. It turns out that Pratt just flat-out lies about what the bill contains.

In the extended entry area I go through his objection. The short version is: Much. Ado. About. Nothing.

h/t Jahi for sending me the original link to Pratt's article.

Pratt complains:

(All emphasis in quotes is my own.)

The proposed ban is actually broader. Anyone who is diagnosed as being a tiny danger to himself or others would have his gun rights taken away . . . forever. It is section 102(b)(1)(C)(iv) in HR 2640 that provides for dumping raw medical records into the system. Those names — like the 83,000 records mentioned above — will then, by law, serve as the basis for gun banning.

So I took a look at the cited provision. Section 102(b)(1)(C)(iv) provides that "[a] record that identifies a person who has been adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution" is a "record" under the act. States who wish to participate in the NICS program must provide 90% of such records to the Attorney General.

But do (C)(iv) records include mere diagnoses of mental disorder as Pratt claims? Of course not. (C)(iv) records are those in which a person has been "adjudicated" or "committed" to a mental institution. To find out what those terms mean, we look to § 3 of the Act which in turn directs us to the federal regulations.

27 CFR 478.11 gives us our answer:

Adjudicated as a mental defective. (a) A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:

(1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or

(2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.

Doctors' diagnoses are not an adjudication within the meaning of the federal regulations. Nor are doctors or psychiatrists vested as "lawful authorities" for the purposes of adjudicating mental defectiveness.

"Committed" is similarly defined:

Committed to a mental institution. A formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. The term includes a commitment to a mental institution involuntarily. The term includes commitment for mental defectiveness or mental illness. It also includes commitments for other reasons, such as for drug use. The term does not include a person in a mental institution for observation or a voluntary admission to a mental institution.

Depending on jurisdiction, mental health adjudications take place in courts or in front of state mental health commissions. In either case, the requirements of due process hold.

This doesn't stop Pratt from claiming:

But under the Veterans Disarmament Act, "mental defective" has been stretched to include anyone whom a psychiatrist determines might be a tiny danger to himself or others.

That is patently not the case. No language in the Act or in the federal regulations can be construed in this manner.

Pratt goes on:

Now, adjudication in HR 2640 would include a finding by "a court, commission, committee or other authorized person" (namely, a psychiatrist).

There is no indication in the Act or in the federal regs or in caselaw that an "authorized person" for purposes of adjudication of mental defectiveness can be a psychiatrist acting alone and not subject to the due process requirements of a judicial or administrative proceeding.

I'm sorry Jahi; there may be good reasons to oppose this bill, but Larry Pratt hasn't listed any.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:56 PM

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