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February 21, 2017

Congress votes to roll back rule barring some with mental impairments from purchasing guns

Daily Briefing

The Senate on Wednesday voted 57-43 to approve a resolution (H.J. Res.40) that would repeal a final rule intended to prevent certain individuals with mental impairments from purchasing firearms.

The Senate's vote sends the resolution, which the House approved earlier this month, to President Trump. Congress voted to repeal the rule under an expedited process established through the Congressional Review Act. Under the process, a simple majority of at least 51 votes in both chambers can invalidate a regulation by passing a joint resolution of disapproval that is signed by the president, the Associated Press reports. Republicans hold 52 seats in the chamber.

According to NPR's "The Two-Way," Trump during the presidential campaign defended gun rights and is expected to sign the resolution. 

Background on the rule

The final rule, which the Social Security Administration (SSA) published in the Federal Register in December, took effect Jan. 18, 2017, but is not scheduled to be enforced until Dec. 19, 2017. The rule would require SSA to notify the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) of individuals who receive Social Security and have been deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs. According to the AP, the rule could affect about 75,000 Social Security beneficiaries. Individuals whose records would be submitted to NICS would be allowed to appeal the decision.

The rule was crafted under the Obama administration following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, which saw 20 students and six staff killed by 20-year-old

Adam Lanza. According to the AP, Lanza, who shot and killed himself at the school, had a variety of mental health conditions, including Asperger's syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The rule was backed by NAACP, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the National League of Cities.

The rule was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association, and several advocacy groups for the disabled.

The debate

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who led the repeal effort, said the regulation unfairly stigmatizes individuals with mental health conditions. He said the rule is filled with "vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard" barring someone from purchasing or owning a gun.

The ACLU in a letter to Congress earlier this month said the rule advanced and reinforced "harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent."

Ari Ne'eman—CEO of, an online platform intended to help families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities manage their in-home services—in a Vox opinion piece published shortly after the House vote, said, "Disability advocates are concerned with setting the precedent that needing help with financial matters implies a lack of capacity to exercise other rights."

However several Democrats defended the measure. For instance, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) criticized the procedure used to invalidate the rule, saying that the vote makes it "harder for the federal government to do what we have told them to do for decades, which is to put dangerous people and people who are seriously mentally ill on the list of people who are prohibited from buying a gun."

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, "This heartless resolution puts the most vulnerable Americans at risk." He added, "Make no mistake, this vote was really about deepening the gun industry's customer pool, at the expense of those in danger of hurting themselves or others" (Dwyer, "The Two-Way," NPR, 2/15; AP/Politico, 2/15; Ne'eman, Vox, 2/6; Social Security Administration final rule, 12/19).

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