Protest Erupts Over Letter Telling Vet to Hand Over Guns

Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler outside John Arnold's home with other protesters. photo from khq.com.

A veteran in Idaho was at the center of a local whirlwind of political controversy this week involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, NICS, and a group of protesters who were acting, in what they called, a "defiance of tyranny."

Last year, John Arnold, a U.S. Navy vet of Priest River, had a stroke, after which paperwork was filed with the VA stating that he wasn't financially competent and couldn't handle his own affairs, such as paying bills and managing a pension. This declaration resulted in the VA entering Arnold in the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and flagging him as an individual who can no longer possess or purchase firearms.

This story from KREM.com, a local CBS affiliate, says Arnold "received a letter that his firearms would be taken away July 30. An inspector was scheduled to go to Arnold's home August 6 to complete and (sic) inspection and seize the guns."

Other news storieshave reported a similar declaration from the VA, and on Tuesday a group of about 100 people lined up outside Arnold's house to protest the impending seizure. The gathering was spearheaded by state Rep. Heather Scott and included Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, who promised to stand guard against any federal attempts to remove Arnold's guns, and state Rep. Matthew Shea of Washington, who described the event as a "defiance against tyranny."

However, contradicting other reports, the Associated Press and FoxNews.comhave quoted Bret Powers, a VA spokesman, who confirmed a letter had indeed been sent to Arnold from the VA's office in Salt Lake City, but he said that the agency does not have the authority to confiscate weapons.

"We don't send officers to confiscate weapons. We are about providing health care," Powers said. Bryan Hult, a veteran services officer for Bonner County, said the VA typically sends out these letters if a veteran has dementia and a fiduciary has to be appointed to manage finances.

"You wouldn't want that person to be in possession of a firearm," he said.

The VA's authority to bar veterans from purchasing guns if they are declared incompetent has been criticized by Second Amendment advocates. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas recently proposed legislation that would require court action before barring gun purchases by veterans declared incompetent.