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EDITORIAL: Keep rule preventing some among the mentally ill from buying guns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 2/27/2017

Feb. 27--In the midst of all the palace intrigue coming out of the White House, the Republican-controlled Congress found time to eliminate an Obama administration rule enacted to prevent people with severe mental problems from buying a gun.

President Trump, a strong backer of the National Rifle Association, was expected to sign the measure that voids a rule the Obama administration issued in December to prohibit gun purchases by people who are who are unable to work due to severe mental impairment and can't manage their own Social Security benefits. The rule impacted about 75,000 people.

Republicans argued that the Second Amendment rights of mentally troubled individuals must be protected. Some Democrats fearing reelection opposition voted for the measure as well, proving that at least hypocrisy in Washington is bipartisan. Every mass shooting evokes calls for Congress to strengthen gun laws, but the calls fall mostly on deaf ears.

A Virginia Tech student who shot and killed 32 people on campus before killing himself in 2007 had purchased a gun after a Virginia court had ruled he was a danger to himself. President George W. Bush subsequently signed a measure that bolstered the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

After a mentally ill man massacred 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, a visibly upset Obama pushed for stronger gun measures that would strengthen the 2007 law, but he was unable to get any major legislation passed.

Obama said a mass shooting that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando last June underscored the need for gun reform. "To actively do nothing is a decision as well," he said. But what Congress is doing now is worse than doing nothing.

Republican senators said Obama's rule stigmatizes people with mental disabilities. Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) pointed out that "someone who can't literally deposit their own paycheck probably can't, or likely can't, responsibly own and protect a gun." But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) insisted that the Obama rule was "flawed beyond repair."

Research shows only about 4 percent of violence nationally can be attributed to the mentally ill. But some of the same Republicans carrying water for the NRA who insisted that addressing mental illness was more important to reducing mass shootings than tougher gun laws now insist that people deemed mentally incapable of making other important personal decisions should be allowed to buy a gun.

During his campaign, Trump often shifted any discussion of gun control to mental health, which he said Washington had largely ignored. If he voids the Obama rule, it will be clear that his campaign rhetoric was just hot air.

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(c)2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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