In a harrowing sequence of events, a U.S. Army reservist, allegedly grappling with mental health symptoms, unleashed tragedy in Lewiston, Maine, claiming the lives of 18 people. Shockingly, mere hours before this devastating incident, the U.S. Senate greenlit an amendment that eases background check requirements for certain veterans and service members contending with mental health issues.
Crafted by Republican Senators John Kennedy and Jerry Moran, the amendment addresses concerns that veterans could face unwarranted restrictions on their gun rights. Specifically, it prevents the Department of Veterans Affairs from reporting select veterans to the National Criminal Background Check system when their finances are under the management of a conservator at the VA.
Under existing legislation, if the Department of Veterans Affairs intervenes to oversee a veteran's financial benefits through a conservatorship, the VA is obligated to report that veteran to the criminal background check system. The Kennedy amendment, securing a 53-45 vote, now mandates that such information be withheld unless a "relevant judicial authority rules that the beneficiary is a danger to himself or others."
Senator Kennedy emphasized the need to protect veterans' rights, stating, "Every veteran who bravely serves our country has earned VA benefits, and it's wrong for the government to punish veterans who get a helping hand to manage those benefits."
Notably, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, introduced over the summer, aims to shield veterans from undue restrictions on their right to bear arms by preventing government workers from arbitrarily stripping them of this constitutional right.
The alleged perpetrator of the Maine mass shooting, Robert Card, a U.S. Army reservist, had reportedly exhibited erratic behavior during his deployment with the Army Reserve Unit over the summer. Authorities are investigating potential mental health issues Card may have faced and the circumstances that allowed him to possess a weapon when he carried out the deadly shootings in Lewiston. Despite ongoing inquiries into Card's background and gun possession, he remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous. The tragic incident underscores the complex intersection of mental health, gun control, and legislative decisions impacting the safety of both veterans and the general public.
Despite tragic events unfolding in Lewiston, Maine, Democratic state lawmakers in the state have faced consistent challenges in passing laws that mandate universal background checks for all firearms. Efforts to enact such legislation have, to date, fallen short, highlighting the ongoing debate surrounding gun control measures.
Certain individuals with criminal records or medical histories that raise concerns are already prohibited from legally owning firearms in Maine. In the 2016 election, voters in the state encountered a referendum proposing universal background checks for firearm sales, with exemptions for "hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions, and shooting range activity." The referendum saw approximately 51% of voters opposing the measure.
Amidst these challenges, the recent shooting in Maine has drawn attention to a newly approved amendment by the U.S. Senate, which eases background check requirements for veterans and service members with mental health issues. Notably, Democratic state lawmakers in Maine had attempted to push for more stringent background checks in the past.
Senator Kennedy's office has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the amendment in light of the Maine shooting. The amendment, however, faces a lengthy journey before potentially becoming law. Passed as part of a comprehensive package of three significant spending bills, the Senate is in the midst of considering numerous amendments. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer anticipates this process to extend into the following week.
Even if the package successfully navigates the Senate, it must undergo reconciliation with the House's version, and the current disparity in their spending bills adds an additional layer of complexity. The fate of the Kennedy amendment remains uncertain, as it could be subject to removal during the conference stage. Ultimately, both chambers must pass the bills before they reach President Joe Biden's desk, and the passage of individual appropriations bills is far from assured in the current political landscape. ABC News' Sarah Beth Hensley and Ivan Pereira contributed to this report, underscoring the multifaceted challenges surrounding gun legislation and the intricate legislative process.
In conclusion, the recent tragedy in Lewiston, Maine, has cast a spotlight on the ongoing challenges faced by Democratic state lawmakers in their efforts to implement universal background checks for firearms. Despite attempts, these measures have repeatedly met obstacles, reflecting the divisive nature of the gun control debate.
The backdrop of this struggle is intensified by a recent U.S. Senate-approved amendment easing background check requirements for veterans and service members with mental health concerns, a move that contrasts with the endeavors of Maine lawmakers. Notably, the silence from Senator Kennedy's office on the matter raises questions about the intersection of federal decisions and local tragedies.
However, the path forward for the amendment is complex. Passed as part of a larger spending bill package, it faces a series of hurdles, including potential removal during reconciliation with the House's version. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer anticipates an extended process, with the fate of individual appropriations bills uncertain in the current political climate.
The intricate interplay between state and federal actions, coupled with the multifaceted legislative journey, underscores the complexity of addressing gun control measures in the aftermath of tragic events. As Maine and the nation grapple with these complexities, the future of gun legislation remains uncertain, contingent on the intricate dance of legislative processes in the corridors of power. Contributions from ABC News' Sarah Beth Hensley and Ivan Pereira underscore the comprehensive nature of the challenges surrounding gun legislation and the intricate legislative path ahead.