Just a matter of weeks after the Newtown massacre in which twenty young children and six members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School staff were shot dead, the President of the United States of America has now announced a number of measures that his administration will pursue. Some will require legislative approval and a number of others- 23 in fact- have already been achieved through the signing of executive orders today. There’s a battle ahead for the Obama administration on the legislative front, in a country so ensconced in a pervasive gun culture which is based on an often warped view of the 2nd amendment.
The list of executive orders signed today is extensive. Those directives are:
- Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
- Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
- Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
- Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
- Propose rule-making to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
- Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
- Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
- Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
- Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
- Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
- Nominate an ATF director.
- Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
- Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
- Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
- Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
- Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
- Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
- Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
- Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
- Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
- Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
- Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
- Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
That’s quite a list of mostly commonsense measures that the President has within his power to make. As you can see it includes a mix of measures including making information available to different groups and government agencies, educating stakeholders, developing communication between government agencies, emergency plans, commissioning studies and allowing for schools to hire more security.
These particular measures will help fight existing crime, but it is unlikely these measures alone will make a significant difference in the level of gun violence and that is where the legislative proposals come in.
Congress will need to approve a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and legislate to allow criminal background checks on all gun purchases. Congress will also be asked to vote to close the ‘gun show loophole’ and create a federal gun trafficking law.
It is difficult to envisage any of these measures passing through Congress. A ban on assault weapons was in existence until it expired in 2004 but a return of the ban is almost certainly going to be unsuccessful . And you can probably lump banning high-capacity magazines into that same category.
On the face of it, it appears that criminal background checks on all gun purchases might be successfully introduced. And you could say the same for the removal of the ‘gun show loophole’ which allows for private sale of weapons without checks. These measures appear very palatable, but then we are talking about the US Congress.
A federal gun trafficking law is an interesting proposition. Such a law would outlaw the transfer of guns across state borders. This legislation would only be of significant value if coupled with the assault weapon ban which will probably not eventuate. Its success is probably as unlikely as the other measures.
At the very least the assault weapons ban needs to happen, but of course probably will not. The other legislative measures would at least go some way to controlling the supply of weapons to undesirable people, but they would not eliminate the problem in any significant way, if by some amazing miracle, Congress did not stand in the way of reform.
It is more than likely that a largely futile battle lies ahead for Barack Obama, but the fight needs to go on. Too many people have lost their lives because of the number of guns in the US, lax gun laws, a strange view of the 2nd amendment, mental illness and a dangerous gun culture which affects all of these aspects of the problem.