While the Senate launches into a potentially week-long debate over gun control and background checks, a little noticed provision in a compromise bill is stirring up veterans groups who are working to return gun rights to former service members who've been barred from owning firearms.
According to officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs, if a veteran is appointed a fiduciary, someone to handle their VA benefits, because he is deemed incapable of handling his own finances, he is defined by the department as "mentally defective" and banned from owning a firearm.
"A beneficiary is declared incompetent for VA purposes when evidence is received showing that he or she lacks the mental capacity to contract or to manage his/her own affairs, including the disbursement of funds without limitation," the VA said in a statement. "The Department of Justice requires VA to provide it with the identities of individuals who are eligible to receive VA benefits but whom VA has determined are 'mentally incompetent' to manage their own funds."
As of July 2012, an estimated 129,000 veterans had been entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by the VA.
Under the current system, a veteran receives a letter that because they have been assigned a fiduciary to handle their military benefits, they are entered into the background check system as someone who cannot purchase a gun, and must turn over their firearms.
The VA says that a veteran does have the power to appeal the decision.
Vets groups say that the current policy is confusing for veterans and misguided.
"Not being able to financially take care of yourself doesn't mean that you are dangerous," says Tom Tarantino, Chief Policy Officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "At the end of the day, this is a right. If we are going to suspend someone's rights there has to be a process that is logical and sane."
But the background check compromise bill drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would expand the Second Amendment rights of veterans to purchase firearms. Not only does the bill close a loophole that bans military personnel from buying guns in their home state, the legislation would offer veterans a chance to clear their names out of NICs.
The Manchin-Toomey bill would notify veterans who have already been entered into the system and give them time to appeal to an independent board or court to be removed from the background check database.
"This amendment protects a veteran's right to bear arms until he or she has exhausted the appeals process, which is different from the current system in which veterans are 'guilty until proven innocent,' " a statement on the bill reads.
The legislation, however, faces a rocky road ahead. Many Republicans and moderate Democrats oppose the compromise bill and believe it infringes on Second Amendment rights. Some more liberal Democrats say that they are not sure the bill goes far enough.
But if the amendment fails, veterans may still see more legislation this year to expand their gun rights.
Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, last month, which would require a judicial authority to rule a veteran was a danger to his or herself before they were stripped of their gun rights.
The bill has been introduced before with moderate success. In 2011, it passed the House of Representative, but never received a vote in the Senate.