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Group of retired military leaders is fighting to stop GOP bill to protect gun rights for poor vets

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus is among a coalition of former generals who have declared their opposition to the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. (Source: Getty Images)

A coalition of former generals, including retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, have declared their opposition to a bill that would allow veterans on financial assistance to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

The group, Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, wrote an open letter to House and Senate leaders calling the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act an “irresponsible and dangerous” piece of legislation that "comes at a time when an average of 20 veterans commit suicide each day, two-thirds of whom do so by using a firearm."

According to a USA Today summary of the bill:

The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from reporting veterans' records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System after they’ve been deemed incapable of managing their financial affairs because of a disabling mental disorder. The bill would prohibit the VA from considering such veterans “mentally defective” without a magistrate or judicial authority ruling that the beneficiary is a danger to himself or herself or others.

The coalition itself, which includes 14 retired generals and admirals, was spearheaded by Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and her husband Mark Kelly, who  is a Navy veteran. Giffords was shot in 2011 by Jared Loughner, a mentally ill man.

Despite the opposition, the bill has found support from the National Rifle Association.

“No veteran should have their fundamental right to self-defense arbitrarily revoked by a government bureaucrat,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA-ILA, said in a statement. “Receiving assistance to handle personal finances does not mean an individual is unable to safely own a firearm. Our brave men and women in the military should not be stripped of their constitutional rights without due process of law."

“Denying veterans their Second Amendment rights with no due process is shameful," Cox said.

The VA is not conducting mental health checks on soldiers to determine whether or not they should be denied their right to a firearm, The Hill reported. Instead, the agency is judging veterans' qualifications to own a firearm strictly on their financial situation:

The VA is not conducting an evaluation to determine whether a veteran is a threat to himself or herself or others, requiring a medical determination verifying the veteran is displaying signs of violence, or notifying the veteran his or her Second Amendment rights are being eliminated. The VA simply reports the veteran to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system and makes the "mentally defective" judgment of the veteran by default.

If passed, the bill would work retroactively, forcing the FBI to purge more than 174,000 records of "mentally ill" veterans who require fiduciary assistance. According to the coalition, 19,000 of these cases are veterans diagnosed with schizophrenia, and 15,000 with post traumatic stress disorder.

Congress is set to consider the bill on Thursday.

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