August 11, 2015

Manchin Joins Effort to Stop Social Security Administration's Potential Backdoor Gun Limits

Senators say old age or disability not grounds to revoke Americans’ constitutional rights

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined a group of 25 senators in calling on the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) to stop its plan to unfairly target the Second Amendment rights of millions of Social Security beneficiaries.  In a letter to the SSA Acting Administrator, the Senators question the Administration’s reported plan to begin divulging millions of Social Security beneficiaries’ information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“As a law-abiding gun owner, hunter, card-carrying life member of the NRA and Second Amendment advocate, I have always supported a West Virginian’s right to bear arms,” Senator Manchin said. “This potential overreach by the Social Security Administration is a blatant infringement on the Second Amendment rights of millions of Americans. The assumption by the SSA that seniors and individuals with certain disabilities are a threat to society is both inaccurate and misguided and should not be grounds to revoke someone’s constitutional rights. That is why I joined my colleagues in strongly urging the Administration to end efforts to move forward with this proposal.”

News reports have indicated that the SSA is preparing to begin providing the names of Social Security beneficiaries who utilize the representative payee system within the program and have a designated “payee” to NICS.  If an individual is reported to NICS, they are instantly prohibited from purchasing a firearm from a Federal Firearm Licensee.  If finalized, the unprecedented move by the SSA could arbitrarily deny millions of Americans their Second Amendment rights.  According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, over 8 million individuals had a representative payee in 2013.

In the letter, the Senators point to the SSA’s seemingly improper assumption that these individuals are a danger to themselves or society merely because they participate in SSA’s representative payee system, saying “Old age or a disability does not make someone a threat to society.  Having a representative payee should not be grounds to revoke constitutional rights.”

Joining Manchin on the letter are Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jim Risch (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Dean Heller (R-NV), John Boozman (R-AR), John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Dan Coats (R-IN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), David Vitter (R-LA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Steve Daines (R-MT), James Lankford (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

Click here to view the signed copy of the letter or find the full text below.

August 6, 2015

The Honorable Carolyn Colvin
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Woodlawn, MD 21207

Dear Acting Commissioner Colvin:  

We were disappointed to learn, through press reports rather than direct contact from the Social Security Administration (SSA) with Congress, that SSA is currently in the planning stages of implementing a new policy to report certain Social Security beneficiaries to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) used by the government to prevent gun sales to individuals who are felons, drug addicts, illegal or unlawful immigrants, and others.    

As far as we know, nothing in the NICS presupposes adverse risk associated with individuals who are recipients of Social Security benefits and who also utilize representative payees.  Yet, SSA’s intention to implement screening of all such individuals seems to improperly presume that such a risk exists.  It is not at all clear how this misguided intention is intended to be carried out or how SSA will serve as adjudicator of risks posed by beneficiaries utilizing its representative payee system.    

The representative payee system is vital for beneficiaries who need assistance managing their own finances.  Millions of responsible seniors and people with disabilities rely on a representative payee.  As SSA explains to beneficiaries:  “There can be many reasons why Social Security decides someone needs a payee.  However, it is usually because we have information that indicated you need help managing your money and meeting your current needs.”  This description does not seem to suggest that beneficiaries using representative payees are deemed to be a danger to others or to themselves.  Indeed, it would be inappropriately presumptive to decide that such dangers exist merely because an individual participates in the representative payee system, even when participation is based on mental-health related reasons.  Mental health conditions are varied, and SSA’s intentions to report beneficiaries utilizing the representative payee system runs the risk of increasing stigma for beneficiaries with mental health conditions and unfairly judging them to be unfit to avail themselves of their Second Amendment rights.     

In light of SSA’s perennial complaints about lack of funding to administer its programs, it is disappointing to learn that allegedly scarce administrative resources are being devoted to an effort to deny certain beneficiaries of their rights.  Those resources would more effectively be used improving service for Social Security beneficiaries, updating Social Security’s dated criteria for administering its Disability Insurance program, reducing numerous service backlogs, or even improving the workings of the representative payee system currently in place, which the Government Accountability Office recently identified as “a major SSA management challenge.”     

We urge you to suspend further efforts to develop your plan to report old-age and disability benefit recipients in Social Security programs to NICS and to provide a detailed report to us on the basis for SSA’s intention to develop such a plan.

Old age or a disability does not make someone a threat to society. Having a representative payee should not be grounds to revoke constitutional rights.  We strongly urge you to halt any steps to provide information on Social Security beneficiaries or Supplemental Security Income recipients to the NICS.   We look forward to your prompt response.