A group of about 100 people in Priest River, Idaho, lined up outside a U.S. Navy veteran’s house Thursday to protest claims that federal officials plan to confiscate the man’s weapons.
They were joined by Washington state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley – who described the event as a “defiance against tyranny” – and Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard, both Republicans.
Also in attendance was Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, who promised to stand guard against any federal attempts to remove Arnold’s guns.
Scott said the Veterans Affairs office sent a letter to John Arnold of Priest River warning him that he cannot possess or purchase firearms. Shea said the veteran had a stroke, and that the organization was using his illness as a means to seize his guns.
During Thursday’s demonstration, the group at times broke out in song to sing “God Bless America” and pray while waving both the American flag and the “Don’t tread on me” flag. With a population of just 1,700, Priest River is a region known for its strong tea party roots and gun-rights activism.
Bret Bowers, a spokesman for the Mann-Grandstaff Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane, confirmed a letter had been sent to Arnold from the VA’s benefits office in Salt Lake City, but he said that VA policy prohibits discussing individual health records without consent. Bowers added that the agency doesn’t have the authority to confiscate weapons.
“We don’t send officers to confiscate weapons. We are about providing health care,” he said.
Currently, the Veterans Affairs Department can bar veterans from purchasing guns if they are declared incompetent. However, this authority has been criticized by Second Amendment advocates. Most recently, Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas proposed legislation that would require court action before barring gun purchases by veterans declared incompetent.
“This does happen sometimes, where the VA sends out a letter,” said Bryan Hult, veteran services officer for Bonner County. “Especially if a veteran has dementia … and a fiduciary has to be appointed to manage finances like a pension and income. You wouldn’t want that person to be in possession of a gun.”
Scott said the hospital “checked the wrong box” and declared that Arnold couldn’t handle his finances, which led to him being declared incompetent.
The event ended peacefully after a representative of the VA arrived at Arnold’s home and said an inspection wouldn’t occur Thursday, Shea said later.
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