Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 2.6.17

Protecting the Second Amendment

On Thursday, I voted to overturn one of the Obama Administration’s final actions targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

The rule in question, issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA), prohibited the purchase of firearms by anyone who has a determination of a disability listing as one of his primary conditions a mental health disorder and while having another person handle his Social Security financial affairs. This bureaucratic edict was far too broad and denied those affected appropriate due process in taking away their constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

The rule was presented as keeping guns out of the hands of those mentally unfit to handle them. For example, CNN tweeted that the regulation barred gun sales “to people with severe mental illnesses.” The trouble is that the rule itself makes no reference to severe mental illnesses; instead, if you have certain mental health disorders and you designate another to handle your finances, SSA places your name in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS determines whether you can purchase a firearm. This continues the unfair stereotype that everyone who suffers from any mental illness is a dangerous person to be avoided.

In my reading of the rule, it could affect people who have conditions that make a “designated payee” necessary, but it could also apply to those for whom having a designated payee is merely a convenience.

Medical conditions and mental health diagnoses are often combined. Each can take a toll without rendering someone “mentally unfit” to handle his finances. But if someone must spend significant time in treatment or traveling to or from appointments to see an expert in a distant city, it may be easier to have another manage day-to-day finances.

For example, if your spine is crushed in a horrible accident, odds are you will develop depression because you can no longer do the things you used to be able to do. A good disability lawyer will reference your depression in the Social Security disability case. As you adjust to the new circumstances, the depression may ease but you still will never be able to work again due to spinal injuries. And, because of the mild depression, if the Obama Administration had its way, you also would never be able to buy a gun again.

Furthermore, most mental conditions do not necessarily make one unfit to own a gun. For example, mild bipolar disorders rarely come with violent tendencies. Further, once someone is on the list SSA provides to NICS, how is he or she removed? Blanket assumptions about the competence of those with mental conditions are deeply unfair.

The rule was said by some reports to be a response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If so, why was it first proposed on May 5, 2016 and only finalized on December 19, 2016, over four years after that terrible day and not until President Obama’s final year in office?

Keeping guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill AND prone to violence is a legitimate matter. But Social Security Administration bureaucrats are not generally trained to make those types of decisions, and a work-related disability case is not the right place to make that final determination. In order to take away someone’s constitutional rights, there needs to be a better process. I am encouraged that the House of Representatives voted 235 to 180 to overturn SSA’s rule by passing a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution of disapproval, which I also cosponsored. I look forward to the Senate doing the same and President Trump signing the resolution.

A Victory for Jobs

Speaking of the CRA, last week the House and the Senate both voted on a resolution of disapproval overturning the so-called “Stream Protection Rule (SPR).” The SPR threatened to kill hundreds of thousands of jobs related to coal for almost no environmental benefits. Furthermore, the rule was issued by the federal government without properly consulting state and local stakeholders. Like the SSA rule on guns, SPR does little good but adds plenty of burdens onto ordinary Americans.

The CRA has been on the books for over twenty years but has only been used successfully once, in 2001. President Trump is expected to sign several CRA resolutions during the coming weeks.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.


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