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If someone has a mental illness severe enough that he cannot work or manage his own money, should he be allowed to own a gun?
In the waning weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama answered that question. Motivated by Adam Lanza‘s bloody rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six educators in 2012, Obama imposed a rule that barred gun ownership for people who qualify for Social Security disability insurance because their mental illness keeps them from working, and who cannot manage their benefits. That pool is small — just 75,000 Americans.
The GOP-led U.S. House just voted to scrap that rule. Bad move. The Senate now decides whether to back that bad move. If it does, President Trump would decide whether to go along or disagree.
Republican lawmakers hang their case on the argument that the rule stigmatizes people with disabilities as dangerous. “There are people who need help and seek help, but that is not a criteria for taking away one’s constitutional right” to own a gun, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions said.
Sessions implicitly exaggerates the impact of the rule. As gun control measures go, the scope of this one is narrow. Its goal is to keep guns out of the hands of people on record as having a disabling mental disorder. The standard for taking that gun away is steep — they have to be on Social Security because their psychiatric disorder keeps them from working, and they cannot manage their own affairs. Both conditions must be met. Even if the rule keeps someone from owning a gun, that person can pursue an appeal.
America has seen what can happen when someone with severe psychiatric issues has access to firearms. Their names and crimes live in infamy:
•In 2007, Seung Hui Cho shot to death 32 people at Virginia Tech University before killing himself. Two years earlier, a judge had deemed Cho an “imminent danger” because of mental illness and ordered him to seek treatment. But because he was never committed, that assessment never got recorded in the federal database of people ineligible to buy guns. Cho passed the background check and bought the guns he would wield at Virginia Tech.
•In 2012, James Holmes strode into a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire, killing 12 people.
And there’s Lanza, who went through months of hysterical crying, stretches of lethargy and self-imposed isolation from his family before unleashing terror at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I didn’t understand that Adam was drifting away,” his father, Peter Lanza, told The New Yorker in 2014.
These crimes showcase the dangers in allowing severely troubled individuals to buy firearms. The rule the House voted to scrap doesn’t cast so wide a net that it applies to anyone seeking psychiatric treatment. It’s specific in scope, and anchored by a common-sense premise that