Obama's executive orders on guns: Not what either side says they are
I consider myself as a rational conservative. This is because so many people that I know on both the right and the left prefer to use emotion rather than logic in analyzing issues. I know those who will oppose anything coming from the lips of Barack Obama regardless of what he says. Likewise, I know others who abhor Clarence Thomas and disregard anything associated with him. Consider for example the recent dust up over Obama's three executive orders related to guns. Now don't get me wrong, I own enough rifles, shotguns and handguns to outfit what is left of Yugoslavia. But that does not color my ability to think rationally. One the one hand, some I know on the left have said "Its about time he took action". On the right, I heard "he's taking away our guns!" more than once. I have heard calls for impeachment since "he is unilaterally voiding the second amendment!" I heard he unilaterally banned assault weapons and large ammunition magazines. My response was that I did not think the president had the power to do any of that and found out that these provisions were in a bill introduced by Diane Finstein and not in the executive orders. Moreover, at least two states reacted adversely to the president's executive orders. There was a bill introduced in the Texas legislature that would block Obama's executive actions. There is a bill introduced in the South Carolina legislature that exempts from federal gun rules the state militia (defined as "all able-bodied people over the age of 17 who are US citizens residing in South Carolina allowed to purchase a firearm"). New York went in the other direction and its senate passed legislation looking like Senator Finstein's bill. Of course the proposed statutes in South Carolina and Texas may run into the Supremacy Clause which bind the states to obeying "properly authorized" executive orders. I also heard that Obama signed 23 executive orders, but in fact there were only three and for the life of me, I cannot find what is so objectionable about the three since they do not break new ground. The White House issue a list of 23 actions that the president might take:
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 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 DOJ 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 health care 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 ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
What were the three executive orders that were signed? One does incorporate several of the above items by having the Justice department coordinate government-wide compliance with the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 where "Among its requirements, the NIAA mandated that executive departments and agencies (agencies) provide relevant information, including criminal history records, certain adjudications related to the mental health of a person, and other information, to databases accessible by the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System]." The second one instructs federal agencies that "regularly recover firearms" in the course of their investigative activities to ensure that such firearms are "traced through ATF at the earliest time practicable." The third is #14 above and directs the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. One of the objections I read was saying that this would take valuable research dollars away from research on things like cancer that kill many more people than guns. But let's be honest. In the three items signed, not a single one expands the reach of the federal government. All are remarkable only in their banality and lack of teeth. It is as though Obama felt the need to do something in reaction to Newtown and this was the best he could do given the limits imposed by the constitution. I have no doubt that if he could unilaterally ban all guns and ammunition, he would. But just because we all know that he wants to doesn't mean that we look at these executive orders and attribute to them something that is wholly not true.
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com