February 02, 2017
The House voted Thursday to cancel an Obama administration rule that would have had Social Security add names from its files to the list of people prohibited from buying guns in the national background check system.
Under the rule, which got final approval as President Obama was heading out the door in December, the Social Security Administration was instructed to scour its records to spot people who were so mentally impaired that their checks were sent to a payment representative. Those names were then to be entered in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The GOP-controlled House voted 235-180, breaking down almost entirely along party lines, to kill the new rule using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Capitol Hill a chance to swat down a lame-duck president’s last-minute regulations.
Gun-rights groups said the rule impinged on Americans’ Second Amendment rights, denying them the chance to buy a gun without good reason.
“This rule is a slap in the face of those in the disabled community because it paints all those who suffer from mental disorders with the same broad brush,” said Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va. and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
He said people who suffer from mental disorders are more likely to be crime victims, not perpetrators.
But Democrats defended the Obama rule, saying it was part of his efforts to build up the background check system, which enjoys widespread support.
“However, this background check system is only as good as the completeness of the records it includes,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
He said the rule is intended to only collect names of those who have a “very severe, long-term mental disorder.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Ia., has introduced a Senate version of the gun-rule repeal.
The gun rule was one of a handful of Obama repeals the House was attempting to pass this week under the CRA.
Another, to erase an anti-coal stream protection rule, cleared the House earlier in the week and then passed in the Senate, 54-45, on Thursday. That bill now goes to President Trump, who has said he’s eager to expunge his predecessor’s last-minute actions.
The CRA applied to rules issued in the past 60 days, and has only been used successfully once before, in the hand-off from the Clinton to Bush administrations.
Some experts had said they thought the CRA could be expanded to apply beyond just the last couple of months, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected that interpretation.
“I think it would be a great opportunity if it were in fact the case. But the people that I’ve had take a look at it just don’t believe it’s possible,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
He did say that rules dating back to “last June” are eligible; Congressional Research Service analysts wrote in December that the 60-day period excludes days on which either the House or the Senate is in recess.