DENVER -- Who decides when a veteran is mentally unfit to carry a weapon? Right now, that decision comes from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but a bill is gaining momentum in Washington, D.C. that could leave the decision up to a judge.
Denver7 spoke with veterans at the nation’s very first Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1 in Denver.
Inside, you won’t find a bar, but you will find walls covered in art and the stories flowing. Eighty percent of the artists displaying their work are veterans. The VFW 1 hosts yoga, hiking, counseling sessions and meditation classes hoping to help new veterans transition back smoothly into civilian life.
“I was 18 when I went in under fire. You advance real fast,” said Rod Fort, a Navy veteran and artist at Post 1.
Jim Stevens is the director of the Veterans Arts Council at Post 1. He retired from the army after he was shot in the head.
His wounds eventually led to his blindness years later after complications from a stroke.
He and his partners chose to make it a place to share their pasts, but also a place to discuss the present.
“A veteran’s right to a firearm, it should in no way be any less than any other person in the community,” said Stevens.
Congress is considering a bill, called the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, that would shift who judges a veteran mentally fit to own a gun.
Stevens and Fort believe treating mental illness is the bigger issue.
“Just because someone has PTSD, doesn’t mean they should be denied their rights," Stevens said.
But the issue is complex, as critics argue the bill could raise the suicide rate among veterans.
“If you’re an American citizen, you have your right. Period,” Stevens said.
Supporters believe veterans deserve a hearing before the very rights they fought for are taken away.
“On the one hand, I can appreciate a physician saying this person is unstable and should not own a gun, got it,” said Stevens.
The bill now heads to the Senate floor.