WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House on Thursday took its first steps toward strengthening gun ownership under President Donald Trump, moving to scrap a requirement for background checks for disabled Social Security recipients mentally incapable of managing their own affairs.
The regulation, issued in the final months of President Barack Obama's term, is one of a handful congressional Republicans are rolling back, knowing they habe a new ally in the White House. The Senate is poised to scuttle an Obama rule preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.
"In my home state of Kentucky and others across the nation, the Stream Buffer Rule will cause major damage to communities and threaten coal jobs," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The House passed the gun resolution on Wednesday and Senate approval on Thursday will send the measure to Trump for his signature.
Obama's background check rule required the Social Security Administration to forward to the Justice Department the names of certain disabled beneficiaries for a database of individuals ineligible to purchase a firearm. The rule affects an estimated 75,000 beneficiaries who require a representative to manage their benefits because of a disabling mental disorder.
Republican lawmakers criticized the regulation for reinforcing a negative stereotype that people with a mental disorder are dangerous.
"There are people who need help and seek help, but that is not a criteria for taking away one's constitutional right" to own a gun, said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
After the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Obama directed the Justice Department to provide guidance to agencies regarding information they are obligated to report to the background check system. The Social Security Administration issued a final rule on Dec. 19 that spells out when the names of beneficiaries must be forwarded to the database that federally licensed gun dealers consult before selling a firearm.
In Newtown, 20 children and six educators were shot to death when a gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. The gunman had earlier killed his mother inside their home, and he used a gun and ammunition that she had purchased.
Democrats said Republicans were doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association, which opposed the Social Security Administration's rule. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said his constituents have a right not to be victims of gun violence.
"They have a right to protect their loved ones who may use a weapon against themselves or their family members," McGovern said.
While gun rights groups have weighed in with opposition to the regulation, some advocates for the disabled have also said the regulation is discriminatory. The agency that advises the president and Congress on government policy, the National Council on Disability, said there is no connection between the inability to manage money and the ability to safely possess and use a firearm.
Republicans are employing a rarely-used tool to roll back some of the rules issued in the final months of Obama's tenure. The Congressional Review Act allows provides a temporary window for a simple majority of both chambers to invalidate the rule. Trump would also have to sign the resolution of disapproval for the regulation to be deemed invalid. What's more, the law prevents the executive branch from imposing substantially similar regulations in the future.
Among the top priorities for the GOP is to scuttle the rule to prevent coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams. The Interior Department said in announcing the rule in December that it would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby waters. The rule maintains a long-established 100-foot buffer zone that blocks coal mining near streams, but imposes stricter guidelines for exceptions to the 100-foot rule.
Interior officials said the rule would cause only modest job losses in coal country and could even create jobs as companies hire construction crews to haul and store debris.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said repealing the stream protection rule would "sicken and kill the very people Donald Trump falsely promised to help," coal miners in West Virginia and other states.