Social Security Update: Agency Backpedals as NRA and Pro-Gun Officials Press for Answers

Last month, we reported on a story by the L.A. Times that indicated the Obama White House is eyeing ways to use the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a source of records for NICS, which includes a federal database of persons prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms. One option the story discussed was SSA’s adoption of a model employed by the Veteran’s Administration, which reports to NICS as “adjudicated as a mental defective” beneficiaries who have been assigned a “fiduciary” to manage their benefits. This has resulted in some 177,000 VA beneficiaries being reported as prohibited persons to NICS, without the necessity of any judicial finding whatsoever as to their propensity for dangerous or violent behavior. According to the L.A. Times, a similar move by the SSA would have far broader reach, involving as many as 4.2 million beneficiaries with “representative payees.”

We also noted that Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex), Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means, spearheaded a letter joined by 19 members of Congress to Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. The letter cautioned that using the assignment of representative payees as a basis for reporting SSA beneficiaries to NICS “would be a dangerous overreach.” Accordingly, the letter urged the agency “to abandon any such plan.” It also asked Ms. Colvin to specify whether or not SSA intended to pursue such a policy.

Ms. Colvin responded to Rep. Johnson’s inquiry in a letter dated Aug. 7. According to that letter, “SSA has not provided any names of beneficiaries to the NICS and is not considering sending names based solely on the beneficiaries having representative payees.” Ms. Colvin did acknowledge, however, that “we are currently determining how we must comply with our NICS reporting obligations under Federal law” and “are looking at possible implementation scenarios.” None of those scenarios, according to Ms. Colvin, “would refer all SSA beneficiaries with representative payees to the NICS.”

A careful parsing of Ms. Colvin’s language, however, still leaves ample room for concern. For example, it does not rule out assignment of a representative payee as factor in reporting beneficiaries to NICS. Rather, it merely states that it will not be use as the “sole” determinant and that not “all” such persons will be reported. This could mean, for example, that SSA would not report beneficiaries who are assigned representative payees solely because they are minors. It also raises the question of what other possible pretext SSA might use to strip its clients of their Second Amendment rights.

Given these ongoing concerns, your NRA continues to work with pro-gun members of Congress to ensure one of America’s largest entitlement programs is not transformed into the Obama administration gun ban dream machine.

Also on Aug. 7, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) led a coalition of 27 senators in another letter to Acting Commissioner Colvin. Once again, the letter expressed concern about SSA’s apparent intention to report beneficiaries with representative payees to NICS. “It is not at all clear,” the letter stated, “how this misguided intention is intended to be carried out or how SSA will serve as adjudicator of risks posed by beneficiaries utilizing its representative payee system.” It also asked for a report “on the basis for SSA's intention to develop such a plan.” Further, the letter admonished, “Old age or a disability does not make someone a threat to society,” and closed by urging SSA “to halt any steps to provide information on Social Security beneficiaries or Supplemental Security Income recipients to the NICS.”

Meanwhile, your NRA has been actively engaged with members of Congress on ways to statutorily preempt use of the nation’s entitlement programs as a basis for stripping Americans of the right to keep and bear arms. As we reported last week, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has introduced S. 2002, a bill that would halt the VA and SSA, or any other agency for that matter, from forwarding individuals to NICS without proper adjudications which find an individual a danger to themselves or others. Law-abiding recipients of benefits for which they are legally eligible should not have to worry about choosing between monies or services they are due under the law and their fundamental constitutional rights. All options remain on the table to prevent such abuses.

In the meantime, if you have not already registered your concern, your senator and representative needs to hear from you NOW that you will not tolerate use of the Social Security Administration to strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights. You can use our "Write Your Lawmakers" feature here or call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

© 2015 National Rifle Association of America, Institute for Legislative Action. This may be reproduced. This may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.

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