File Photo: Rhino 500 handguns are on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images, File

Senate Republicans vote to expand gun access for mentally impaired

Updated
Following up on our previous coverage, congressional Republicans have made a specific gun measure one of their early priorities. As of this morning, it’s on its way to becoming law.

Under the status quo, when an American suffers from a severe mental illness, to the point that he or she receives disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, there are a variety of limits created to help protect that person and his or her interests. These folks cannot, for example, go to a bank to cash a check on their own.

They also can’t buy a gun. Last week, the GOP-led House passed a measure to expand these Americans’ access to firearms, and as the Huffington Post noted, the GOP-led Senate did the same this morning.
Congress took its final step Wednesday to repeal a Social Security Administration rule that was written to prevent mentally incompetent people from buying guns. […]

Republicans, who frequently assert that the way to deal with gun violence is to deal with mental illness, in this case argued that the regulation mistreats disabled Americans.
The Senate roll call is online here. Note that literally every Senate Republican voted for it, as did four red-state Democrats and one independent who caucuses with Dems.

As always, the specific substantive details matter. The Social Security Administration reports the names of those who receive disability benefits due to severe mental illness to the FBI’s background-check system. The Republicans’ bill intends to block that reporting, making more people eligible to legally buy a firearm.

After writing a recent piece on this, I heard from several readers who argued that the current system is flawed and in need of repair. It’s very difficult, for example, for someone to have their names removed from the background-check system once they’re on it.

And while that’s a fair point, and concerns about the flaws in the system have merit, note that this legislation makes no real effort at reform. It’s more of a blunt object than a scalpel.

What’s more, in the wake of the country’s brutal mass shootings, Republican policymakers usually have a reflexive set of talking points, and near the top is something intended to sound constructive: working on mental-health issues is a potential area for bipartisan common ground.

The question today is whether GOP officials take their own rhetoric seriously.

In 2013, for example, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), asked about reducing gun violence, told NPR, “[T]he biggest problem that we have to deal with, and quite frankly I don’t think any of us have an answer to the mental health issue. How do you get more people that have mental health problems that shouldn’t have guns, and under present law can’t get guns, but you got to get their name into the database as well.”

In 2017, Chuck Grassley was the chief sponsor of the legislation to expand gun access for the mentally impaired.

His bill now heads to the White House for Donald Trump’s signature.