Federal Gun Law Challenged As Ga. Aims To Shore Up State Law

Congress is trying to get rid of a pending rule that puts anyone getting Social Security benefits for mental disability on an FBI background check list.
Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press
Audio version of this story here.

 As federal mental health checks for firearms are challenged, GA lawmakers aim to patch an issue with state gun laws.

The U.S. House of Representatives is trying to roll back an Obama-era rule that sought to restrict firearms access to some people suffering with mental illness.

Meanwhile in Georgia, lawmakers are working to close a gap in an existing state law on gun possession for those with serious mental illness.

Susan Tate is a probate judge in Athens. She also heads the state’s Weapons Carry License Committee. The pending changes in both state and federal law make her think of a weapons license she issued to a man with mental health issues. His friends and family came to her concerned a little more than a year ago.

“He was spiraling downward. He was not taking his medication. He had gotten obsessed with guns and bought a half a dozen over a short period of time,” Tate said.

He’d been hospitalized for mental illness in the past, but the family  members didn’t have a record of it. That meant Tate couldn’t suspend his firearms license under either Georgia or federal law.

The man was, however, getting Social Security benefits for mental disability. Right now, Congress is trying to get rid of a pending rule that puts anyone getting those payments on an FBI background check list.

If that rule had been in place, Judge Tate said, “I would never have issued him a license in the first place.”

She eventually made sure the man got treatment and gave up his firearms.

Tate says she’s encouraged by a bill moving forward in Georgia’s legislature. It’s got bipartisan support and is meant to fix an issue with the state’s background check system.

People who have been involuntary committed can’t purchase guns. But, right now, the record of commitment gets purged after five years.

“It gives people a false sense of security because they think ‘Oh well it’s not being reported any more it. It must be OK for me to possess a firearm,’ when that’s not true,” John Monroe, vice president of Georgia Carry, a gun rights advocacy group, said.  They have no plans to oppose what they see as a clarifying measure.

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