PRIEST RIVER - More than 100 protesters gathered Thursday around a veteran's home over fears the Department of Veterans Affairs was attempting to take the man's firearms.
John Arnold, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam era, said he was advised by the federal agency in a letter that he had been found to be mentally incompetent following a stroke he suffered last September. Under federal law, those found mentally incompetent by the VA are barred from possessing weapons.
"I had a stroke and it screwed me up pretty bad, but it didn't screw up my mind," Arnold said at the Thursday morning protest. "I still have my capabilities to function like a human being."
David Cooper of the American Legion spoke in support of Arnold at the event.
"I've got news for you," he told the crowd. "This guy knows what he's doing 100 percent. He pays his own bills and does everything else other than drive and to declare him incompetent is a joke."
Arnold's caregiver, who declined to give her name, has worked for the longtime Priest River resident since January.
"John is a wonderful man and he takes care of himself," she said. "In no way should he lose any of his rights."
After hearing of the letter from the VA, Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, took to social media and assembled around 40 citizens, including members of the group Liberty for America, Thursday morning. By early afternoon there were more than 100 protesters outside Arnold's home ready to "stand the line."
During the protest spearheaded by Scott, Arnold received an overwhelming show of support.
"This is tyranny and unacceptable in my district," Scott said. "We are here to be proactive not reactive to nonsense. People will be coming from all over because it's a big deal and North Idaho will take a stand today. These bureaucrats messed with the wrong county this time and we will set an example for the nation."
Scott was backed by the Bonner County Sheriff's Office and Priest River Police Department. Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and Chief Drew McLain were present as firm supporters of the Second Amendment and defenders of Idaho Statute 18-3315B, which prohibits local law enforcement agencies from aiding a federal agency in seizing firearms without an order of the court.
After a few hours of peaceful protest, a regional service officer from the VA arrived at the residence and, after speaking with Arnold and his representatives, made the determination that a field examiner would not be conducting an inspection of the residence on Thursday.
The regional service officer was reportedly working with Arnold on appeal options and walking him through the steps to correct the problem.
"If the field examiner would have came out we could get worried, but that's not happening today," said Matt Shea, Washington state representative for District 4. "Hopefully we will get this resolved the way it should have, through due process, like it should have been done eight months ago."
"In our letter of Jan. 20, 2015, we told you that we were reviewing evidence about your ability to handle your own financial affairs," the letter obtained by the Hagadone News Network read. "We finished the review and decided that you are not competent for VA purposes. Therefore, we will find someone to manage them for you."
Cited within the letter is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which prohibits anyone deemed incompetent by the VA from, "purchasing, possessing, receiving or transporting a firearm or ammunition."
The letter stated Arnold could apply to the VA for relief of the firearms ban imposed by the law and had a year from receiving the letter - dated on Jan. 30, 2015, - to appeal the decision.
A part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act is a memorandum of understanding between the VA and the FBI wherein the VA surrenders health information to be added to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The memorandum states that the NICS database is a list of "persons prohibited under federal law from receiving or possessing firearms."