We all know that Gabby Giffords was injured in a murderous attack by a deranged Democrat activist. We know that she suffered serious brain trauma and needed more than a year to regain even partial mobility and speech. We also know that she has staged a remarkable recovery, becoming the figurehead of a gun-control operation started by her husband, Mark Kelly. Rep. Giffords and Capt. Kelly often point out that they are not anti-gun and make show of buying, owning and shooting guns.
Since we know all of that about Gabby Giffords, let me tell you about someone you don’t know. We’ll call him Larry to protect his privacy. Larry grew up in a shooting and hunting household. As with so many working-class American gun owners, Larry is a patriot, and when he was 18, he volunteered for the U.S. Army. He went to Vietnam and was one of the last U.S. casualties of that conflict when he was seriously injured by grenade shrapnel. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and, like Gabby, had to relearn simple things like walking, talking and feeding himself. With help from his loving wife, Larry was eventually able to live a relatively normal life, though he suffers with frequent headaches and deals with severe pain that keeps him from being able to hold down a regular job. The couple has depended on his small disability pension and what his wife has been able to earn cleaning other people’s houses. One of his few joys has been getting out into nature and hunting – for meat and for the solitude he finds in it – or just tinkering and plinking.
If you met Larry, you would never guess what he’s been through. You might notice that he has a bit of a limp, and that one eye doesn’t quite line up with the other, and you might make the connection between those things and the Vietnam veteran ball cap he always wears, but mostly you’d notice that he’s a friendly, outgoing and humorous guy who enjoys people and likes to talk about guns.
A few years ago, Larry and his wife were in a tight spot. She had developed some health problems of her own and was just no longer physically able to work. On top of that, Larry was getting forgetful and being irresponsible with what little money they had. He had a tendency to make impulse purchases of things they didn’t really need, and he rarely remembered to record purchases or ATM withdrawals.
When Larry and his wife discussed the situation with Larry’s VA health-care adviser, they were told that they could get more help from the government. By agreeing that Larry was unable to handle his financial affairs, and having his wife appointed fiduciary for him, his disability payment would go up by an extra $1,000 a month.
This sounded like a Godsend to the distraught couple, and they grasped at the opportunity. A few weeks later, I got a call from Larry and his wife. They were in tears and were looking for my advice. A letter had arrived from the VA informing them that Larry’s disability status was being upgraded because he was being ruled incompetent to handle his own affairs. All that was needed now was a signature at the bottom of the page to confirm and agree with the findings. Then the letter said that as a result of this action, Larry’s name would be forwarded to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Check System as someone who is “mentally incompetent,” and that he would be prohibited from ever purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition. The VA advised that all firearms and ammunition in the home must be removed, and that ever allowing Larry to have access to a firearm or ammunition would be a federal felony.
No one suggested that Larry is a danger to himself or anyone else. No one suggested that he is violent or unstable. No one suggested that anyone in the world will be safer or better off if Larry is not allowed to have access to firearms, but to get the help they needed, Larry and his wife were going to have to abdicate his right to arms for the rest of his life.
Larry and his wife called me looking for a way around the firearms restriction. They wondered if they could just say that Larry’s guns belonged to his wife so they could keep them and Larry could keep doing what he loved. They wanted me to tell them that the VA couldn’t legally take away his gun rights, or that the prohibition only applies to purchases.
But I couldn’t tell them any of those things. I advised them to consult an attorney, and told them that under my layman’s understanding of the law, Larry would be considered exactly the same as a violent felon, and that if they kept any of his guns or ammunition it would all have to be stored in a way that Larry never had access to it. I also had to tell them that anyone who let Larry shoot a gun at the range or in a hunting stand would be committing a felony, as would Larry himself. They were left with a choice of either renouncing their disability claim and starving, or permanently signing away Larry’s Second Amendment rights. I desperately wish it weren’t true, but that’s what the law currently says.
I never saw or heard from Larry and his wife again. I don’t know what decision they ultimately made. I suspect they took the disability and hid the guns, choosing to be criminals and hoping they wouldn’t get caught, but I don’t know. What I do know is that the choice should never have come to that, and that the law – and the way it is applied by the VA – is simply wrong.
When I see Gabby Giffords doing photo-ops at a gun store or range, I am thankful for her remarkable recovery, and I’m glad for her ability to enjoy her fundamental rights, even if she is just doing it to further the cause of restricting mine. But I can’t help thinking of Larry, and wondering whether Gabby and Mark would be so free and public about their gun ownership if Gabby had been dependent on VA medical care and disability payments.
More than 100,000 veterans have lost their gun rights, not because they’re dangerous, but because they’re damaged. Their sacrifices for our rights have cost them theirs. I wonder if Gabby ever thinks about that when she’s calling for more background checks and more people to be added to the NICS “prohibited persons” database.
Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].