Various federal agencies participate in the federal background check system for firearms purchases as far as reporting information into the system, but there's been one huge loophole in that arrangement for years: Social Security has never been required to do so. President Obama is expected to change that, and that could mean major differences for millions of older Americans.
Seeking tighter controls over firearm purchases, the Obama administration is pushing to ban Social Security beneficiaries from owning guns if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs, a move that could affect millions whose monthly disability payments are handled by others.
The push is intended to bring the Social Security Administration in line with laws regulating who gets reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is used to prevent gun sales to felons, drug addicts, immigrants in the country illegally and others.
A potentially large group within Social Security are people who, in the language of federal gun laws, are unable to manage their own affairs due to "marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease."
There is no simple way to identify that group, but a strategy used by the Department of Veterans Affairs since the creation of the background check system is reporting anyone who has been declared incompetent to manage pension or disability payments and assigned a fiduciary.
If Social Security, which has never participated in the background check system, uses the same standard as the VA, millions of its beneficiaries would be affected. About 4.2 million adults receive monthly benefits that are managed by "representative payees."
The move is part of a concerted effort by the Obama administration after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., to strengthen gun control, including by plugging holes in the background check system.
But critics — including gun rights activists, mental health experts and advocates for the disabled — say that expanding the list of prohibited gun owners based on financial competence is wrongheaded.
Other than change the law, there's not much Congress can do about that. Which federal agencies participate in the NICS system is determined by the executive, not the legislative branch. This is simply using the power Congress gave the presidency.
Having said that, I'd need to see the details of how Social Security status would be used to determine eligibility to purchase a firearm before commenting. A blanket "no" on anyone having their Social Security managed by someone else doesn't seem like the best idea, but then again it is the same standard that the VA uses and I have yet to hear anyone complain about that.
Of course, Republicans are going to go apeshit and lie and say Obama will take guns away from all Social Security recipients, or something equally false and stupid. But Republicans have lost battle after battle with supposedly "lame duck" Obama over the last seven months. I don't see them winning too much at this point.