Speaking on the two mass shootings this weekend, President Donald Trump said Monday that mental illness and hate played a role in these attacks. Critics were quick to point out that Trump signed a bill at the beginning of his presidency reversing a regulation under President Barack Obama that banned certain people with mental impairments from buying firearms.
Is this criticism merited?
Facts First: It’s complicated. The Obama administration’s rule, which took effect two days before Trump’s inauguration, restricted people who required help managing government benefits and had a mental impairment from buying guns. That includes those with eating disorders, cognitive impairments and depression. Multiple disability groups, along with the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the regulation.
Under the regulation, the Social Security Administration was required to submit anyone to the federal background check database if they received assistance managing their benefits from a representative payee – meaning the person has been formally determined unable to manage their own benefit payments alone – and also had a mental impairment that limits their ability to work. The list of impairments included depression, anxiety, neurocognitive disorders, eating disorders and more.
When the Obama regulation went into effect, the White House announced it expected 75,000 people to be affected.
The ACLU, along with 23 disability groups opposed this rule and supported the bill repealing it. “The thousands of Americans whose disability benefits are managed by someone else range from young people with depression and financial inexperience to older adults with Down syndrome needing help with a limited budget,” the ACLU wrote in February 2017, noting the wide range of individuals affected by the rule. “A disability should not constitute grounds for the automatic per se denial of any right or privilege, including gun ownership,” the ACLU said in a separate letter that month.
This now-removed rule did not alter federal law which prohibits individuals “who (have) been adjudicated as a mental defective or (have) been committed to any mental institution” from owning a firearm.
Mental impairment is a complex issue, and claiming that Trump made it easier for those with a mental illness to access firearms is an overstatement that ignores what the regulation did and who it affected.