Congressional Clash: Gun Rights Rider Sparks Partisan Firestorm

by Tommy Grant

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Politico is reporting that a contentious gun policy rider attached to a spending bill has drawn the ire of Democrats and celebration of Republicans, with House Speaker Mike Johnson heralding it as a significant victory for his party. The rider in question is designed to protect the gun rights of military veterans who rely on Veterans Affairs (VA) assistance to manage their benefits, sparking heated debates on both sides of the aisle.

The controversy centers around concerns voiced by Democrats, particularly Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a vocal anti-gun proponent, who took to social media to express his opposition. Murphy criticized the provision for potentially enabling thousands of individuals, whom he described as “seriously mentally ill,” to purchase firearms annually. He deemed the inclusion of such a measure in the spending bill as “a death sentence for many” and chastised Democrats for yielding to Republican pressure on this issue. Democrats would have these veterans stripped of their right to own or possess firearms without due process in order to receive benefits.

An article in Roll Call cited Democrats’ concerns that all of these veterans who fall under this blanket are mentally defective, however, the rider wouldn’t simply green light the right to buy guns and ammo. Veterans who fall under this provision could at least have their case decided by a judge.

The gun-related rider would change current law in place since 1993, under which veterans who are unable to manage their finances and benefits are reported to the Justice Department for a background check. Once the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System sees that individual has been deemed incompetent by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they are barred from purchasing guns and ammunition.

Instead, under the provision authored by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., in that chamber and backed by his Senate counterpart, Jon Tester, D-Mont., veterans seeking to buy firearms but unable to manage their finances could have their cases decided by a judge.

During a private House GOP conference, Speaker Johnson underscored the Democratic dissent against the gun policy rider as a triumph for the Republican party. He cited press reports and Democratic criticisms, which labeled the rider as the most significant regression in gun safety measures in over thirty years, highlighting the partisan rift the issue has exacerbated.

Notably, the gun rider had previously garnered support in the Senate, with several Democratic-aligned senators backing the measure, underscoring the complexity and divisiveness of the issue within Congress.

The debate intensified with Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) voicing their apprehensions. Frost, in particular, described the rider as “the greatest rollback of the background checks system since it was created,” indicating the profound concern among Democrats regarding its implications.

Despite these tensions, the spending bill does include a provision that both parties agreed on: a seven-year extension on the ban of so-called ghost guns.

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