In the wake of a tragic mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, where an Army reservist with reported mental health symptoms allegedly killed 18 people, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment that could impact the background check requirements for veterans and service members dealing with mental health issues. This amendment, authored by Republican Senators John Kennedy and Jerry Moran, has raised concerns over veterans potentially losing their gun rights.
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Background on the Amendment
The Kennedy-Moran amendment addresses the reporting of certain veterans to the National Criminal Background Check system by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when their finances are under the management of a conservator at the VA. Under current law, if the VA assumes control of a veteran’s financial benefits in a conservatorship, the VA is mandated to report that veteran to the criminal background check system. The Kennedy amendment, passed by a Senate vote of 53-45, restricts the secretary from transmitting this information to the criminal background check system unless “a relevant judicial authority rules that the beneficiary is a danger to himself or others.”
Rationale Behind the Amendment
Senator Kennedy, when introducing the amendment, stated, “Every veteran who bravely serves our country has earned VA benefits, and it’s wrong for the government to punish veterans who get a helping hand to manage those benefits. Veterans who sacrificed to defend our Constitution shouldn’t see their own rights rest on the judgment of unelected bureaucrats.”
Maine Shooting Suspect and Mental Health Concerns
The shooting suspect in the Maine tragedy, Robert Card, allegedly exhibited erratic behavior during his deployment with the Army Reserve Unit. Card’s deployment took him to Camp Smith Training Center in upstate New York, where he supported summer training for West Point cadets. Investigators are currently examining potential mental health issues Card may have had and how he came into possession of a firearm when he carried out the attacks in Lewiston, leaving 18 victims dead.
Political Landscape in Maine
Democratic state lawmakers in Maine have repeatedly attempted to pass laws requiring universal background checks for all firearms, but these efforts have not succeeded. Maine already has regulations prohibiting individuals with certain criminal and medical histories from legally owning firearms. In 2016, Maine voters were presented with a referendum for background checks on all firearm sales, with some exceptions. Approximately 51% of voters opposed the measure.
The Amendment’s Legislative Journey
It’s important to note that the Kennedy-Moran amendment is still far from becoming law. It was passed as an amendment to a package of three major spending bills that the Senate is currently considering to fund the government. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expects that the process of debating and voting on amendments will extend into the next week.
Moreover, even if the Senate passes the package, it will need to be reconciled with the House’s version, which may present challenges due to differing priorities. The Kennedy amendment could potentially be removed during this process. Ultimately, both chambers must approve the bills before they can be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The Maine shooting tragedy has reignited discussions on the intersection of veterans’ rights, mental health issues, and gun control. As the legislative process unfolds, the nation will closely watch how this amendment could shape policies surrounding veterans and firearm ownership.