I must admit that I am not a gun nut on either side - I believe in the Second Amendment but I also think it is within the power of government to set reasonable limits on the types of weapons that individuals can own. Therefore, I was amused by the President's press conference yesterday in part because I had read the list of his executive orders beforehand. As you go through the list (presented below) they are an odd mix of things that Obama could do without issuing an executive order (#11 - Nominate an ATF Director - well duh! - and host of other equally compelling issues that are highlighted in GREEN) and also things that are so vague as to be meaningless (colored in RED). So what we are left with is a short list of initiatives that would strengthen the background checks for purchasers of guns and some more federal spending to beef up school safety officers. Background checks could help - but based on prior experience the feds are not very good at doing them effectively. And creating another federal program to "solve" a problem does not have much of a track record either.
Then you come to the legislative proposals which would reinstate an "assault weapons ban" and would establish a limit on the number of shells that a gun could hold in a clip. Some gun advocates believe that any size clip is appropriate for private use. That is absurd. But let's face it, there is no evidence that the limiting the size of the clip will produce fewer tragedies like the recent ones in Connecticut and Colorado. It also seems reasonable to limit the ability of private citizens to get automatic weapons (where the gun continues to fire until you let up on the trigger). I also think that some of the gun designs are downright ludicrous - but is it the province of the federal government to stipulate what products will look like? And more importantly, will limiting whether one can have a weapon with a non-traditional stock actually reduce the level of mass shootings? The evidence from a Department of Justice analysis suggests that these kinds of limits will not reduce the problems.
So do we just give up on gun violence or accept the idea that we should arm more people in schools? Both positions seem off the mark. We limit who can purchase alcohol in the country. It seems appropriate to establish a reliable method of limiting firearms purchases by doing reasonable background checks. (That could be done under existing law.) It also seems reasonable to limit purchases by people with known mental problems. (That can be done within existing law.)
What annoys me about the discussions from both the NRA and the President is that they seem to be involved in an elaborate game of policy kabuki rather than trying to seriously address a problem which we should be trying to solve. The President, not something that is different from his other approaches to policy, thinks that if you just say something and spend north of $500 million you will make progress on the problem. I doubt it. But the NRA seems to think that by arming guards at schools that you will address the larger issue of gun violence. Neither approach makes a lot of sense to me.
The President's Non-Legislative Proposals -
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background-check system.
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.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background- check system.
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.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a Department of Justice report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
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.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to healthcare providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency-response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within Affordable Care Act exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental-health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.