- Kathryn Patterson
Mixed Feelings over Recent Executive Actions
As you have probably heard, President Obama issued 23 executive actions yesterday related to the backlash after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. Reading over the list, I felt... well, that's what I want discuss with you. This set of executive actions falls into three major categories:
Potentially Hazardous to the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties
These executive actions appear to say, "See? We're doing our job." But none of them really change anything, other than granting the idea/law official White House acknowledgement. I put the following orders in this category:
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system. Doesn't this happen anyway?
4. 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. What does this really accomplish? Aren't felons and crazy people already on the "Do Not Buy" list? This feels like a CYA on the government's part.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers. I seriously hope federally licensed gun dealers already know how to run background checks, since the process should be the same regardless of the seller.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign. I debated where to put this, because another national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign can't hurt. But this just feels like the President is throwing a bone to the NRA.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission). Again, this is not a bad idea, but feels like the government is doing a CYA.
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations. To my knowledge, federal law enforcement already traces gun, so this doesn't really change anything.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement. I think that data analysis can be useful in many situations, but this orders leaves me with three questions.
What information will be in this report?
How do they see local law enforcement using this information?
Does the DOJ normally keep their information secret, such that an executive action is needed for them to share?
11. Nominate an ATF director. In the past six years, Congress has not confirmed a Director for the ATF. I know that the President wants them to confirm the current acting director, but I don't think an executive action will change this.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations. For what I've read, no one in Sandy Hook responded inappropriately; I don't think more training would have changed anything that day. This order feels like it is playing on people's fears, "solving" the problem of inappropriate training.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime. White noise that changes nothing, simply sounds good.
17. Release a letter to health-care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law-enforcement authorities. Again, white noise.
19. Develop model emergency-response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education. This is similar to the "training" order. There already are emergency response plans in schools and such.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental-health services that Medicaid plans must cover. This should be clear already, and sending a reminder on one hand wastes someone's time and costs money.
We already have a problem with current federal regulations stomping over our civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, e.g. the Patriot Act. We don't need the government, either local or federal, taking away any more.
2. 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. What's an "unnecessary legal barrier"? When does the rights of society trump the right to privacy of an individual? This executive action begins down the slippery slope of government collecting and sharing information on individuals that may or may not be necessary, with the problem being the government having the ability to classify anything as "necessary".
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system. What kind of incentives are we talking about and what information will be shared? As with the previous order, this sounds innocent but potentially leads to danger.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun. If the police seized a gun from an individual and now must legally return the gun, then doesn't running a full background check qualify as an illegal search? After all, you need to get a background check before buying a gun, so theoretically anyone with a gun has already passed a background check.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes. Why does a doctor need to know if someone owns a gun? How does this stop gun violence? This is harmful, though, because it allows/encourages doctor's offices to collect information on people that is unnecessary and irrelevant. It also breeds the attitude that knowledge of your gun ownership is not your private information.
That leaves six executive actions that might prove beneficial:
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. While I don't consider gun violence a traditional, germ-based disease, I do think that gun violence is a social disease. The CDC is the perfect choice for attempting to determine the causes and prevention of such.
15. 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. Getting the private sector involved is brilliant, because the government gets better technology with no budgetary increases, the newer inventions stimulate the economy, and society hopefully ends up with safer guns.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers. I feel two ways about this. On one hand, I think that schools need police officers to be role models for the kids and provide appropriate education. On the other hand, schools don't typically need a police officer there every school day, during every school hour.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges. Removing loopholes and making regulations clear is always a good thing.
22. Commit to finalizing mental-health-parity regulations. Hopefully, this will finalize regulations that favor the individual instead of companies.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health. While gun safety has been a national topic for years, mental health still lives in a shadowy corner wearing a "Dunce" cap. People hide the fact that they have mental problems for fear of condemnation, because society still looks at mental health problems as a sign of weakness or a terminal character flaw. A national dialogue on the topic is definitely a step in the direction of removing this stigma.
Overall, I suppose that six potentially beneficial executive actions versus four potentially harmful ones is a good balance. I just wanted, well, more. More acknowledgement that our current mental health system needs a major overhaul, more acknowledgement that managing guns isn't the magical solution to gun violence, more actions that have meaning instead of Brownian motion.
Maybe next time.