BOISE, Idaho – A group of residents in northern Idaho lined up outside a U.S. Navy veteran's house on Thursday to protest claims that federal officials are planning on confiscating the man's weapons.
Idaho Republican state Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard said the Veteran Affairs office has sent a letter to John Arnold of Priest River warning him that he cannot possess or purchase firearms.
The protest — spearheaded by Scott — attracted roughly 100 people. Among them were Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, who promised to stand guard against any federal attempts to remove Arnold's guns, and Republican Washington state Rep. Matthew Shea of Spokane Valley, who described the event as a "defiance against tyranny."
"I took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and uphold the laws of Idaho," Wheeler said. "This seemed appropriate to show my support. I was going to make sure Mr. Arnold's rights weren't going to be breached."
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 near the tip of northern Idaho — a region known for its strong tea party roots and gun-rights activism.
Scott was one of the key lawmakers during this year's Legislature who helped sink legislation that would have put Idaho in compliance with federal child support laws. Doing so put Idaho at threat of losing millions of federal dollars and resources, and required the Idaho Legislature to meet for a special session, at which the state finally passed the legislation.
Arnold did not immediately respond to calls from The Associated Press.
Veteran Affairs spokesman Bret Bowers 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 to 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."