Very soon, I expect President Trump to sign a bill that makes America a more dangerous place to live. With the stroke of a pen, he will wipe out a rule the Social Security Administration enacted last year. That rule would have improved and strengthened the Brady background check system for gun purchases.
In 2007 Congress passed, and President Bush then signed into law, updates to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. Those updates were passed in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting by a dangerous and severely mentally ill man. One of the updates in the law required federal and state agencies to do a better job providing comprehensive information to the background check system.
But the federal government doesn't always move as fast as we'd like. Nearly ten years later, in the summer of 2016, the Social Security Administration proposed adding some of its records to the Brady background check system. Specifically, the agency proposed that if a person applied for disability benefits, was between 18 and retirement age, was totally unable to work because of mental illness, and was unable to manage his or her own finances, that person's name would be added to the background check list of people who are unable to buy guns. The proposal provided an appeals process for affected beneficiaries.
The Social Security Administration received thousands of comments in response, including one from Brady in support of the rule. In December of 2016, the Social Security Administration finalized the rule. It was set to go into effect this year.
But some politicians in Congress didn't like it, nor did the gun lobby. So Congress to a little-known procedural tool called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) – a law that until this year had only ever been successfully used once before since its enactment twenty years ago. That little-known law allows Congress to undo federal agency rules issued within the last 60 legislative days. When Congress nullifies a rule via the CRA, it does so permanently, because every use of the CRA automatically bars the federal agency from reissuing the same or a substantially similar rule ever again.
If the Social Security Administration had finalized its rule to help keep guns out of the hands of severely mentally ill people who can't manage their own finances just a few months earlier, it would have been beyond the reach of the Congressional Review Act. We wish the agency had acted sooner.
Congress has already used the CRA to gut other Obama-era rules in the opening weeks of the Trump administration. Representatives in the House have introduced resolutions to repeal upwards of twenty more rules, too.
As for this Social Security Administration rule: they say time heals all wounds, but it seems it also changed Senators' minds. In the decade since the 2007 law on background check updates, twenty-two Senators flip-flopped. They had voted for the 2007 law requiring data like this to be included in the Brady background check system, but they then voted to overturn the Social Security rule doing exactly that.
Ninety-three percent of the American public favors expanding Brady background checks. Why doesn't Congress? #MakeAmericaDangerousAgain.