I just finished reading President Obama’s 23 executive actions on gun control. Here are my initial thoughts:
1. Relax, people. He’s not coming to take away your guns by executive fiat, as some in the gun lobby have said. In his address, the President appropriately left it up to Congress to require universal background checks; ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and to create tougher penalties for sellers of weapons to unauthorized persons. The White House will propose legislation for Congress to consider, and will no doubt lobby lawmakers in support of such legislation, but won’t attempt to usurp Congressional lawmaking authority in these areas.
2. The overarching theme of the executive actions seems to be threefold. First, the measures are aimed at encouraging federal and state agencies and health care providers to supply key information to the background check system. The proposed actions clarify agency rules promulgated under HIPAA and other federal privacy laws to assure health care providers that no law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
While the President’s announcement was somewhat vague concerning what information he proposes be shared by agencies and health care providers, I think it’s safe to assume that he’s talking about complete information regarding criminal history, as well as any threats of imminent harm expressed by individuals in connection with treatment by a physician.
3. Second, the President will direct agencies under his control to more stringently enforce existing gun laws. These measures include directing the Attorney General to review existing enforcement measures regarding unauthorized possessors “to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks,” and to “[m]aximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.” (Expect an uptick in “felon in possession” charges in federal courts.) The President will also direct federal law enforcement officers to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
4. And third, the executive actions emphasize education. There is a measure directing the ATF to provide a letter to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers. The President’s announcement also included a program to provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations. And finally, there is an emphasis on seeking answers about both the root causes of gun violence, as well as the past failings of the mental health system.
The President’s announcement regarding the executive actions was vaguely worded — and probably deliberately so. It will be interesting to see how each of these measures plays out in real time.