Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Politicians, bureaucrats, and constitutional rights

I'm not sure how many readers have noticed the (unfortunately low-key) brouhaha over US military veterans and their right to keep and bear arms.  Fox News reports:

Should veterans deemed too mentally incompetent to handle their own financial affairs be prevented from buying a gun?

. . .

A core group of lawmakers led by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has for several years wanted to prohibit the [Veterans Administration] from submitting those names to the gun-check registry unless a judge or magistrate deems the veteran to be a danger. This year's version of the bill has 21 co-sponsors. It passed the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee by voice vote, a tactic generally reserved for noncontroversial legislation. Coburn's amendment to the defense bill contained comparable language.

"All I am saying is, let them at least have their day in court if you are going to take away a fundamental right given under the Constitution," Coburn said in the Senate debate last Thursday night.

. . .

VA officials have told lawmakers they believe veterans deemed incompetent already have adequate protections.

For example, they said, veterans can appeal the finding of incompetency based on new evidence. And even if the VA maintains a veteran is incompetent, he can petition the agency to have his firearm rights restored on the basis of not posing a threat to public safety.

There's more at the link.

Let me say at once that if someone's mental incompetence is sufficiently great to pose a danger to him- or herself and/or their loved ones and/or the public, they almost certainly have no business operating instruments (vehicles, firearms, etc.) that may pose such a danger.  I think any reasonable person would accept that.  I also accept that problems sufficient to render somebody mentally incompetent in one area (e.g. finances) may (not necessarily will) be sufficient to render them mentally incompetent in other areas (e.g. drive, or own firearms).  Again, that's common sense.

However, the process of determining a person's mental competence is complex, subject to error or misinterpretation, and vulnerable to influence by factors having nothing to do with medicine - particularly where money is involved.  For example, family members may be concerned that 'their' potential inheritance is being spent by its owner before they can get their hands on it.  Think that doesn't happen?  As a pastor, I saw several such cases.  Let's just say that greed can be a powerful motivator to act against the best interests of a vulnerable person, or 'shade' the evidence one gives about them to those who will have to make a judgment about their mental competence.

Such issues can be addressed through appeals and/or litigation, you say?  Er . . . not necessarily.  You see, once a person has lost control of their finances, how are they to get the money to retain a competent lawyer to act for them?  Those who now 'act on their behalf' can simply refuse to approve or pay the bills.  I've seen that happen.  This is a formidable roadblock to obtaining justice and overturning a possibly incorrect, even fraudulent decision.

Another fundamental issue is that the right to keep and bear arms is recognized in the constitution.  That's been upheld by the US Supreme Court.  Any such right should be subject to restriction only when it's clearly, unambiguously and vitally necessary for the best of reasons.  In my opinion, that means such restrictions should be subject to review by the courts, which are the guardians of our constitution and the rights outlined in it.  The VA's automatic assumption that 'mental incompetence in one area necessarily implies mental incompetence in another' ignores this legal reality in favor of a rubber-stamp procedure.  It's great for the bureaucrats wielding the rubber stamp - it makes their lives much simpler - but it appears to ride roughshod over the rights of those they purport to serve.

I submit that a knee-jerk assumption by politicians and/or bureaucrats, particularly one that directly and immediately affects constitutionally-recognized rights, is the wrong way to make decisions.



Rev. Paul said...

ANY time politicians or bureaucrats are given the authority to make a decision, it "necessarily follows" that it will be the wrong one. I spent enough time in government to know.

Anonymous said...

It appears that some people currently in government have actually studied history. Historically, even recently, veterans have proven to be very effective in instituting changes in corrupt governments. By calling to question their mental status and denying them access to weapons the bureaucrats are ensuring that any effort made to clean up the corruption in the current regime is defanged.