Robert Card, an Army reservist with a history of mental health issues, is suspected of killing at least 18 people at multiple locations in Maine on Wednesday.
Hours before the rampage, the Senate voted 53-45 to adopt an amendment making it easier for veterans with mental disabilities to get guns. The Department of Veteran Affairs is currently required to send the names of veterans who need assistance managing their benefits to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The amendment adopted on Wednesday, introduced by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), overturns this requirement. “My amendment would prevent government workers from unduly stripping veterans of their right to bear arms,” Kennedy said. “Every veteran who bravely serves our country has earned VA benefits, and it’s wrong for the government to punish veterans who get a helping hand to manage those resources.”
Five senators who caucus with Democrats — three Democrats and two Independents, all up for reelection in 2024 — voted with Republicans to adopt the amendment. “It is not right that a D.C. bureaucrat at VA could take away a veterans’ legal right to their firearms simply because they needed assistance managing their finances,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.).
Angus King, an Independent who represents Maine, also voted to adopt it. So did Susan Collins, the long-serving Maine Republican. Neither senator’s office immediately responded to requests for comment about the vote.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), one of the leading gun control advocates in Congress, argued against the amendment on Wednesday. “We are not talking about people who just can’t balance their checkbook We’re not talking about people who just need some assistance with their financial affairs,” he said, per The Hill. “The standard that the VA uses is the standard of mental competence.”
“Let me put a finer point on it,” Murphy added. “One third of the veterans we’re talking about in this category are diagnosed schizophrenics. This amendment allows for every single one of them to have their gun rights restored.”
Murphy elaborated on his opposition to the amendment following the shooting in Maine. “I thought one of the few things we could all agree on is that people who are a danger to themselves or others should not be able to buy firearms,” he said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “On Wednesday, the Senate had the opportunity to ensure that veterans adjudicated as mentally incompetent are not able to buy a gun, and we failed. The ongoing tragedy in Lewiston is a devastatingly clear example of why there is still so much work to do to keep our families and communities safe.”
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