On the other hand, nobody comes for your guns if you land on the “bankrupt” wedge in Wheel of Fortune.
When a person files for bankruptcy, they usually have to undergo asset forfeiture, in which they turn in many (or even most) of their possessions. They’re still allowed to keep certain basic necessities.
Over the years, Congress has specified numerous federally protected possessions during asset forfeiture, including medical equipment, one television, one personal computer, kitchenware, and even wedding rings for the sentimental value.
Congress has also specified several items which are not protected, mostly expensive items which are clearly not necessities, including art, boats, yachts, and personal planes. (Such items could perhaps still be retained, as determined by a bankruptcy court on an individual basis, but their protection is not guaranteed in federal law.)
As of 2013, according to a list compiled that year by the Congressional Research Service, 13 states explicitly protected a firearm from bankruptcy asset forfeiture: Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a person in those states can keep all their firearms during bankruptcy, if they own multiple. Some such state laws protect only one single weapon. Others protect up to a certain monetary value’s worth of weapons.
However, there is no such federal protection at all.
What the bill does
The Protecting Gun Owners in Bankruptcy Act would guarantee people nationwide the right to keep up to $3,000 of firearms when forfeiting assets in bankruptcy.
It was introduced in the House on February 9, as H.R. 962, by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY24).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that firearms are protected in our nation’s founding document and accordingly should constitute a necessity, just like a home or a vehicle.
“No American should ever have to sacrifice their constitutional rights because of their financial situation,” Rep. Tenney said in a press release. “The Second Amendment is a constitutional right for all Americans, even those experiencing financial hardship. I am honored to lead this important legislation that protects the rights of gun owners everywhere, no matter their financial situation.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that a firearm doesn’t fit the criteria for the types of possessions that have generally been exempt from forfeiture.
“Assets such as clothing, household furnishings, retirement funds, and Social Security benefits are exempt from seizure — within certain limits — so that those struggling through bankruptcy have something to restart their lives with,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN4) said on the House floor. “While this bill may be a political victory for the American gun lobby, a special carveout for guns would do nothing to help families emerge from the crisis of bankruptcy.”
“In these times of economic hardship, millions of working families are facing bankruptcy and foreclosure,” Rep. McCollum continued. “They need real help, not carveouts for special interests.”
Opponents may also note that an intensely stressful event, such as bankruptcy, is the wrong time to make sure someone has ready access to firearms. In 2020, 54% of U.S. gun deaths were suicides, compared to 43% murders.
Odds of passage
This appears to be at least the eighth consecutive Congress in which this bill has been introduced in the House.
The House actually passed it in 2010, despite Democratic control of the chamber at the time. Republicans almost unanimously supported it by 168–1, with only then-Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI1) crossing party lines in opposition. Even a slight majority of Democrats supported it, by 139–112, though it’s unclear whether that would still hold true today.
That 2010 version never received a Senate vote.
No subsequent version received even a House vote, not even during periods when Republicans controlled the chamber. That’s despite one subsequent version from 2011 attracting 41 cosponsors, actually slightly *more *than the 2010 version which the House passed.
The current bill has attracted three cosponsors, all Republicans. It’s unclear why the cosponsorship has dropped so much in the past dozen years, especially since the Republican Party has generally moved to the right on gun issues since then.
It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled Senate.