Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | April 10, 2013

Gun laws and trusting the government

Reportedly, a pair of U.S. Senators – Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia – have put together a compromise on extending background checks, as a way of keeping some element of President Obama’s gun-restrictions proposal alive in Congress.

Toomey was reassuring about the concern that “universal background checks” would lead to a national gun registry:

Responding to claims by opponents, including the NRA, that more background checks would lead to a national gun registry, Toomey said, “It simply doesn’t happen.”

Not quite clear what that sentence means, but it is being interpreted as indicating that gun owners’ concerns are groundless.

Are they?  A recent event in New York suggests we should be very careful what things we trust the government to do and not do.  Two law-abiding citizens of Erie County have been sent mailings from the state police ordering them to surrender their guns and gun permits to local authorities.  In both cases (the second case is alluded to, without further identifying details, by the lawyer interviewed on Tom Bauerle’s radio show), the pretext for the order from state police appears to be the kind of medication the citizens were on – or had taken in the past.

According to the citizen’s attorney, in the case we have more details about, his physician did not make any kind of report to law enforcement under New York’s “SAFE” Act, which requires a doctor to report it when he fears a patient will become a danger to himself or others.  The citizen’s drug prescription was not known to law enforcement because of a doctor’s report.  Indeed, the citizen had only taken the meds for a short period, at some time in the past, and is no longer on them.

What appears to be the case is that a database linking the individual with his prescription for an anti-anxiety medication was accessed by someone in the state police department, who then issued an order for the citizen to turn in his guns and his gun permit.

The man’s attorney couched the matter plainly in those terms.  I doubt we are going to find out that he mischaracterized what happened.  There’s a database in which one’s medical prescriptions are linked with one’s identifying information, and the New York State Police have access to it.  Now someone in the agency has used this access to order citizens to surrender their guns.

We might justifiably assume that this situation will be rectified once the glare of the spotlight is uncomfortable enough for the New York state authorities.  But the important point here, one you must never forget, is that this is what every government, everywhere, will always do if it can get its hands on your personal information and if you have given it the authority to deny you things.

One of the key points here is that we have no business maintaining databases in which state employees can look up what medications we have been prescribed.  There is no valid public purpose for this.  It doesn’t matter whose daily activities are made more convenient by the existence of such a database.  There shouldn’t be one.

But we need look no further than the Veterans Administration to see what government functionaries will do with your information if there is a legitimate reason for them to have it.  America’s veterans have a variety of ailments and other issues with which the VA is properly concerned, on the theory that we need to take care of our vets.  The raft of personal information the VA has on vets turns out to be a problem, however, when it becomes suspiciously automatic for the VA to declare veterans incompetent to manage their affairs.

Tens of thousands of veterans have been declared incompetent for fiduciary purposes by the VA in the last few years, and have been sent letters from the VA informing them that they are now prohibited from owning firearms.  (The second link below indicates that over 127,000 have received such letters.)  But it’s not just the letters to vets: the VA notifies the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of each judgment of fiduciary incompetence.

The suggestion that so many vets have become incompetent in the last few years may or may not strain credulity, and we need not presume to know the details of each case.  There is a more damning point here, which is that the Social Security Administration also deals in judgments of fiduciary incompetence – but it doesn’t forward the judgment to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or send letters to beneficiaries informing them that they are prohibited from owning firearms.  It acts, in other words, within the proper bounds of a federal agency.

The big-flick point is this: a citizen who is not a veteran would be accorded his right to a hearing before a judge, with his own representation, if a state wanted to declare him unfit for gun ownership.  Certainly, it falls within the purview of states to makes such declarations.  But vets are being served with these notices by the VA, a federal agency, without a court hearing.

This post summarizes the experience of an increasing number of veterans (emphasis in original):

It has also become clear that there has been a rapid acceleration over the last few years in the efforts by the VA to declare veterans incompetent and deny them the right to possess firearms. Veterans who go to the VA for routine checkups or for treatment of physical illnesses are routinely asked if they own firearms. In fact, this i[s] apparently a required question that all VA employees must ask of all veterans.

Lawmakers in Congress have sought to plug the loophole through which the VA has been issuing its letters of prohibition without the veteran getting due process of law.  Alongside other senators, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn fought to amend the 2013 Defense Authorization bill with language requiring that vets get a competency hearing before a judge:

A core group of lawmakers led by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has for several years wanted to prohibit the VA from submitting those names to the gun-check registry unless a judge or magistrate deems the veteran to be a danger. This year’s version of the bill has 21 co-sponsors. It passed the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee by voice vote, a tactic generally reserved for noncontroversial legislation. Coburn’s amendment to the defense bill contained comparable language.

“All I am saying is, let them at least have their day in court if you are going to take away a fundamental right given under the Constitution,” Coburn said in the Senate debate last Thursday night.

The push to amend this year’s defense bill failed, but Coburn promised to shepherd the language restraining the VA through with other bills.

The letter of what the libertarian-minded have been warning against has now been proven.  If there is a database linking us to our medical prescriptions, the state police will use it against us.  It doesn’t matter that the state legislature or governor may come in after the fact and say that that was terrible and no one will do it again.  Something virtually identical will happen again.  Governments cannot be trusted with too much information about us or power over us.

The VA’s use of incompetence judgments to prejudice veterans’ gun rights – rights that should only be taken away through a court hearing, with independent representation for the citizen – is proof of what any government agency will do, anywhere, to anyone, about anything.  Veterans’ affairs get virtually no coverage from the media, after all, and little happens to federal agencies when their actions are shielded by the sitting president.  Government agencies will do whatever they can get away with.  It’s human nature.  That’s why it’s always a bad idea to create more of them, and to allow their effective power over us to grow.

The only way to be safe from government is to keep it small and watch it like a hawk.  We don’t have to wait for the future to find out what government agencies will do to us if we entrust them with extensive medical information about us and ask them to “keep us safe” from guns.  We can already see it happening.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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  1. I see no reason to trust those who have proven to be untrustworthy. In this case, the Obama administration has proven time and again that they will say one thing and then turn around and do whatever they wish, regardless of what they have said. These are troubling times indeed …..

  2. I entirely concur with your POV Opticon.

    Left unsaid, though implied in your commentary is the left’s goal which is, as an elected democrat recently admitted, that the Obama administration’s long term gun control agenda is focused on banning firearms altogether. The left knows that it cannot achieve that goal overnight and is seeking to incrementally move toward that goal.

    The major incremental goal currently sought is universal background checks, which appears relatively innocuous if one predicates that the goal sought is solely to prevent the mentally unstable from obtaining easy access to guns. That however is not the goal but the leverage being applied to preposition the left’s continuing assault upon the right to bear arms.

    A timely article today on the blog American Thinker pointed out what supportive liberals fail to appreciate, “Enforcing the universal background check will require registration of all guns in a national database; otherwise, how and where do we prevent private sales without background checks? And the details of how to enforce the background checks will be handled by the legislation, neatly out of the direct view of the public. Once that occurs, the government will have a list of all legal guns and owners in the U.S., making confiscation extremely easy when the time comes.

    And where are the teeth to make a gun owner register a gun, when he never expects to sell it? All the left needs to do is make possession of an unregistered gun a felony — a “minor” clause in the law when they craft it. [that presents gun owners with a conundrum, if they ignore the law and ever need to] … defend yourself at 3 a.m. from an armed home invasion and your gun is found, you will be in more trouble than the perps. As a felon, you then lose your right to own any guns.

    That is the goal here. Watch for the left to cave on the assault weapon ban and “settle” for just universal background checks. [or whatever incremental movement toward universal background checks the left can achieve] Sounds innocuous, right? If granted, it will provide the left with much, much more than they ever hoped to get at this juncture.”

  3. I suggest a pilot program of “background checks” on the gang bangers on the South Side of Chicago.
    The President spoke a few words at Hyde Park Academy 2-15-2013 about gun violence. His message was” we need to get a vote on a gun control measure to find out which congressional members support the NRA.”
    It is about control, not saving lives.
    A tangential comment if I may: The speeches about gun control, gay marriage, etc are a charade to move attention in other superficial directions. We are in a time of challenges that are long term and very serious. In the domestic arena, the debt and high un-employment are a generational problem. Medi-Care and to a lesser extent Social Security have to be addressed in a serious, but incremental way.
    Externally, we have to return to addressing our foreign affairs “portfolio” diplomatically/militarily by our own interests, period.
    Some of the above are almost intractable problems and have to be approached in micro steps. A Glacial pace if you will.
    There is very little a President can do at this moment in time.
    If there is a perfect time to have a feckless, embarrassing, incompetent President to appeal to the Reality Show population, this is the time. Have any of you watched the Presidents choice of Secretary of Defense
    ( confirmed by the Senate) try to speak in complete sentences?
    The President appears to be quite adept at Tap Dancing (yes, yes, I know) and playing politics around the edges of semi-important issues.
    Quickly everyone, how does one word a law that will end random, mindless violence in the United States? ( Have a firm Father in the home?)
    The Obama Care explosion is the wild card with serious consequences for Mr. Smooth.
    Wait for his speech in a year or so about being mis-lead by Democratic Congressional leaders concerning the Affordable Care Act.
    Now that will be excellent Reality TV.

    • “Quickly everyone, how does one word a law that will end random, mindless violence in the United States?”

      Mandatory lobotomies for any serious violent crime or crime in which a life threatening weapon was used. After recovery from the lobotomy, hand them a broom and tell them that from now on they have the important job of keeping the sidewalk swept.

      • GB thank you for your thoughtful comment. I do not minimize clean sidewalks and a good lobotmy for corrupt, nosey and controling people may be the ticket.
        What law will PREVENT mindless violence is my point. We have many laws that come into play after the fact.
        The idea of background checks is being presented as just a credit score. Past consistant behavior will predict the future. Actuaries may love the challenge, but in the real world mass killers are a fraction of a fraction.
        Unless telepathy is just around the corner, the gun chit chat is just posturing for the Do Gooder Set. Boobus Americanus just won’t go away. Regards.

        • Please excuse the magnificent spelling errors. Never type on the go while standing.

        • On a somewhat more pragmatic note than my prior comment, history provides only one remedy for preventing mindless violence. Inculcating in each generation a regard for reason and moral, ethical behavior so as to create a society that in the main follows moral precepts consistent with reason along with the creation of a penal colony such as Australia in the 1770-80’s were recidivists might be sent.

          • Forgetting Australia for just a bit, the greatest argument against criminals with guns are decent citizens with guns.

            Eventually, when all the progressive BS from the left’s dung beetles end in dissaster, the only reasonably functioning alternative to rampant crime and mass killings will be an armed citizenry. Out forefathers knew this very well because they lived in a time and place where violence might materialize in a second either from natural causes or from not-so-natural causes. Their solutioin: The 2nd Amendment.

            Need more? Please note that the most crime ridden places in the US are the cities where guns have already been banned/outlawed and the mass shooting happen not so coincidentally in places where guns are not allowed.

            Then there is this: The latest mass violence was in a school where the perp used…a box cutter. Since 9/11 also witnessed the use of box cutter by the TERRORISTS that crashed planes against us, what might the dung beetles suggest then? I know! OUTLAW BOX CUTTERS!!!!


            Those that plan evil must fear a well armed victim.

            • Indeed RH. The sheep are kept fearful and un-armed while the wolves navigate the landscape well armed.
              The liberal elite have armed guards, escorts, bullitt proof RV’s, and security details just to show they are true egalitarians. LOL !

  4. […] may have taken a more sinister – unlawful – turn in 2013, when two residents of Erie County were ordered to surrender their guns under the provisions of the SAFE Act.  Neither man had a criminal record, but according to the attorney hired by one, his client was […]

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