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Grassley, Ernst and Manchin Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Restore Veterans’ Second Amendment Rights

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced bipartisan legislation along with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) to restore veterans’ Second Amendment rights. Under current practice, once the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assigns a fiduciary to help a veteran manage benefit payments, the VA will report that veteran’s name to the National Criminal Instant Background Check System (NICS), commonly known as the national gun ban list. Once on the gun ban list, a veteran is outlawed from owning or possessing firearms, resulting in some veterans who are perfectly safe to own firearms being denied their constitutional rights.

In order for veterans to get their names removed from the list, he or she must prove that they are not dangerous. That is a higher standard than the government must live by in order to place names on the list in the first place. If veterans have to prove they are not dangerous in order to get their firearms back, then the government ought to prove they are dangerous in order to take them away.

“This improper application of existing regulations to service men and women is not only unfair, but arguably unconstitutional. Our veterans shouldn’t need to jump through hoops to be granted their constitutional rights, all the while the government isn’t subject to the same standards,” Grassley said. “I’m working to correct this outrageous and, frankly, unjustifiable process quickly and to prevent future injustices for our veterans.”

“Our service members have sacrificed so much to protect our rights, and it’s critical that we ensure their rights are being protected,” Ernst said. “It’s absurd that our veterans are subject to this unjust scrutiny, and that they have been required to fight for what should be a constitutionally protected Second Amendment right. We must correct this injustice and I’m pleased to work with my colleagues to protect our veterans’ rights.”

“As a law-abiding gun owner, hunter, card-carrying life member of the NRA and Second Amendment advocate, I have always strongly supported a West Virginian’s right to bear arms and that includes our veterans. Our veterans have put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms and should not be subject to a different standard than the Americans they defended,” Manchin said.

The Veterans’ Second Amendment Rights Restoration Act of 2018 would restore veterans’ constitutional rights by shifting the burden of proof from the veteran back to the government, requiring that before the VA reports a veteran’s name to the DOJ for placement on the NICS, the VA must first find that a veteran is a danger to self or others. The finding must also be done either through an administrative process managed by a board of three former judicial officers or administrative law judges or through a judicial process. The legislation puts the veteran in control of choosing the forum. 

Veterans already on the NICS list would be afforded the same legal avenues of redress to challenge their classification and undertake the same administrative or judicial route to remove their names from the NICS.

Importantly, this bipartisan legislation does not impede the VA’s ability to report truly dangerous individuals to the NICS and would not automatically remove all veterans from the NICS. In addition, all existing federal firearm prohibitions laws would still be in effect.

By ensuring that veterans have due process before their constitutional right to own firearms is stripped while still providing a means to report truly dangerous individuals to the NICS, this legislation both protects veterans’ Second Amendment rights and public safety.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are supportive of this legislation.

The bill text is here. A summary of the bill is here.