Fact Check

Did Senator Dianne Feinstein Say 'All Vets Are Mentally Ill'?

The claim that Senator Feinstein said 'All vets are mentally ill and the government should prevent them from owning firearms' was an absurd paraphrase.

Published Apr 3, 2013

Senator Dianne Feinstein said that "All vets are mentally ill and the government should prevent them from owning firearms."

A subject of discussion during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on 7 March 2013 was an amendment offered by Texas senator John Cornyn which sought to modify the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 legislation proposed by California senator Dianne Feinstein by allowing an exemption for former military personnel (in addition to an exemption for retired law enforcement personnel which was already part of the bill). Senator Cornyn objected to the notion that the original bill should provide an exemption for retired law enforcement but not for retired military, saying (in part):

Members and veterans of the Armed Forces are the most highly-trained and qualified individuals to own these weapons for self-defense purposes. We should think long and hard before disarming these heroes, preventing them from protecting their families and communities.

Is it because we believe [retired police] have some special competency and training to use these weapons to defend themselves and others, or do we think their families are worthy of special protection?

If you don't believe these weapons can be used lawfully for self-defense, then you should be offering an amendment to strike the pass for law enforcement. But of course, I don't expect that.

The senator's remarks on the issue were eventually encapsulated in a misleading, out-of-context, and paraphrased form intended to make her sound ridiculous:

But Senator Feinstein stated neither that "all vets are mentally ill" nor that "the government should prevent [veterans] from owning firearms." What Feinstein did do was express her opinion that creating an exemption to an assault weapons ban (not a general firearms ban) for retired military personnel might be inadvisable due to both the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among that group and the difficulty of verifying a potential gun purchaser was in fact a veteran, and that the proposed amendment should therefore include a provision for screening out "mentally incapacitated" veterans:

If I understand this, this [amendment] adds an exemption of retired military. As I understand our bill, no issue has arose [sic] in this regard during the ten years the expired ban was in effect and what we did in the other bill was exempt possession by the United States or a department or agency of the United States. So that included active military. The problem with expanding this is that, you know, with the advent of PTSD, which I think is a new phenomenon as a product of the Iraq War, it's not clear how the seller or transferrer of a firearm covered by this bill would verify that an individual was a member, or a veteran, and that there was no impairment of that individual with respect to having a weapon like this. So, you know, I would be happy to sit down with you again and see if we could work something out but I think we have to — if you're going to do this, find a way that veterans who are incapacitated for one reason or another mentally don't have access to this kind of weapon.

Nonetheless, what Senator Feinstein actually did say was the subject of some harsh criticism. Shawn J. Gourley, co-founder of the organization Military with PTSD, penned a rebuttal that took the senator to task for asserting that PTSD was a "new phenomenon" and suggesting it was an issue only for military veterans:

PTSD is not a, "new phenomenon as a product of the Iraq War." It has been called soldier's heart in the Civil War, shell shock in WWI, battle fatigue in WWII, and only most recently, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD made its first appearance in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Third Edition, which was published in 1980. The doctors who lobbied for its inclusion viewed it as a measure that would finally legitimize the pain and suffering of Vietnam War veterans.

However, adding PTSD to the DSM turned out to be an action with more far-reaching effects than just that population; it opened doors for a lot of people who desperately needed help. PTSD is a psychological reaction that occurs after an extremely stressful event involving the threat of injury or death. Anyone can get PTSD at any age. This includes war veterans, police officers, firemen, and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters, and many other serious events. So as you can see, Senator, with all due respect, PTSD is not exclusive to either veterans in general or specifically veterans of the Iraq War.

Senator Feinstein, your bill already has an exemption for retired law enforcement officers, but did you know nationwide, it's estimated as many as 18 percent of police are suffering from PTSD according to a CBS News article in 2012? So I ask you: Why are 100 percent of veterans being stripped of the right to own these types of firearms because of "no way to verify that there was no impairment of that individual," that might affect only 30 percent of that population, but you seem to have no problem allowing assault weapons to law enforcement officers, of which 18 percent may be suffering from this same "impairment," as you say? PTSD in a veteran is the equivalent of PTSD in law enforcement officers. They all have the same symptoms.

Others countered that the means for verifying a potential firearms purchaser's status as a veteran were already readily available (or could easily be made so):

First of all, there is a very easy way to find out if an individual was a member of the armed forces. It is called a DD-214 and I highly doubt any veteran would be opposed to providing that information to a registered firearms broker if it meant they could get certain guns they wish to own. If Feinstein were serious about this, she would put extra personnel and funding into the National Archives to make DD-214s more quickly accessible or make sure that information is accessible in any background check which are already required by law to receive a gun. Everything she is worried about is already covered by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS. Between 2001 and 2011, the FBI reports that over 100 million Brady Act background checks were performed; resulting in more than 700,000 gun purchases being denied.

Some later versions of this item included the following block of text:

Quote of the Day from the Los Angeles Times:

Frankly, I don't know what it is about California, but we seem to have a strange urge to elect really obnoxious women to high office. I'm not bragging, you understand, but no other state, including Maine, even comes close. When it comes to sending left-wing dingbats to Washington, we're number one. There's no getting around the fact that the last time anyone saw the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, they were stirring a cauldron when the curtain went up on "Macbeth".

The three of them are like jackasses who happen to possess the gift of speech. You don't know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words.

Columnist Burt Prelutsky,
Los Angeles Times

This paragraph was indeed part of a larger piece authored by Burt Prelutsky, but Prelutsky is not a Los Angeles Times columnist, nor were these words published in that newspaper. Burt Prelutsky is a conservative pundit (who occasionally sends letters to the Los Angeles Times), and the text reproduced here is the concluding paragraphs of his 6 December 2009 blog post, "The New and Improved Iron Curtain."


Gourley, Shawn J.   "Senator, PTSD Is Not a 'New Phenomenon of the Iraq War.'"     CNN iReport.   10 March 2013.

Jennings, David.   "Sen. John Cornyn — Out of Touch or Poorly Staffed?"     Houston Chronicle.   8 March 2013.

Madison, Tiffany.   "Feinstein Exempts Police, Not 'PTSD' Vets from Gun Ban."     The Washington Times.   8 March 2013.

Torrence, Samantha A.   "Veteran's Advocate Takes Feinstein to Task Over PTSD and Gun Bans."     Digital Journal.   10 March 2013.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.