President Barack Obama announced a series of new executive orders and appointments on Wednesday, designed to reduce gun violence in America. In addition to some new legislative proposals, Obama has put together a panoply of new tools for the government to use to regulate guns, and mitigate gun violence. Here are seven of the most important steps we can take to curb the damage wrought by guns.
7. Require Federal Agencies to Make More Information Available for Background Checks, and Improve Incentives for States to Do The Same
We’ll get to the current problems with the current background check requirements in a minute, but at least 60 percent of guns are sold with a background check right now. Even if there are loopholes large enough to drive a planet through, it only makes sense that those who face background checks face checks that are complete and accurate. If we can close the loopholes, so much the better.
6. Nominate B. Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
The ATF is the law enforcement body tasked with overseeing the investigation of the unlawful sale and manufacture of guns. In our post-9/11 world, you’d think that would be a priority, but of course, that would mean the government might take your precious, precious gun. In 2006, the job of Director of the ATF was made a position that required Senate confirmation; since then, not one person has been confirmed to office.
B. Todd Jones, the current U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, has also been serving as Acting ATF Director since 2011. He succeeded the previous acting director, Kenneth Melson.
Needless to say, it doesn’t help an organization’s operational capacity if it never has an actual leader, which is probably why the NRA has opposed literally every ATF director nominee, including Michael Sullivan, who was nominated by George W. Bush.
At first glance, it may seem unlikely that the Senate would confirm Jones after their many rounds of failure, but with the country actually caring about gun regulations, it will be hard for the NRA to block Jones simply because he might actually do his job. No, Jones won’t be a magic salve for the organization, but at least the ATF can start moving in a direction.
5. Commit to Finalizing Mental Health Parity Regulations
Under the Wellstone and Domeneci Act, mental health problems are supposed to be covered by insurance at a rough parity with physical ailments. The same lifetime caps, provider visit restrictions and copay responsibilities are supposed to apply to both types of ailments. Of course, the devil’s in the details, and with the Affordable Care Act set to fully implement in 2014, regulations remain up in the air.
Clearly, mental health care is vital, not just to prevent gun violence, but as a quality of life issue for millions of people suffering from mental illness. Clarifying regulations sooner rather than later will help the health care industry chart out care options — and hopefully, help stop people from spiraling out of control.
4. Emphasize Prosecution of Gun Violence and Gun Crime
It goes without saying that using a gun for a crime is, in fact, a crime. Putting an emphasis on gun crime prosecutions means that these crimes will be strongly punished — and strongly pursued. No, it isn’t ideal if a gun crime is prosecuted, rather than prevented, but by making it more likely that using a gun will make a criminal pay for their crimes, we can take criminals — and guns — off the street.
3. Direct the Centers for Disease Control to Research Gun Violence
With the number of gun deaths in the United States, it’s clear that guns represent a public health hazard. You’d expect the CDC would study this, but you’d be wrong; the law prohibits the CDC from “promot[ing] gun control.” Out of an overabundance of caution, the CDC has avoided researching gun violence because their conclusions might show that gun control would be helpful, and since facts have a liberal bias, that would make Wayne LaPierre cry.
Obama’s directive lets the CDC off the hook, saying, essentially, that you can research stuff and provide facts, as long as you don’t promote anything in the process. It’s not perfect, of course, but it will allow vital public health research to go forward, and may just help us find ways to reduce gun violence in the long run.
2. Require Background Checks for All Gun Purchases
Obama can’t do this by executive order — he’ll need Congress to pass a law to put this into effect. Still, this would have a significant impact on gun violence. Right now, gun dealers must perform criminal background checks on buyers — but this restriction does not apply to sellers at gun shows or individual sellers. Extending the background check requirement would make it harder for people with violent pasts to get their hands on weapons, and make it harder for “straw buyers” to get away with purchasing weapons for criminals.
1. Pass a New Assault Weapons Ban
Again, this will require Congress to act, and there’s no guarantee they will. An assault weapons ban may be popular, but the Republicans in the House are beholden to a base that views any regulation of weapons as an assault on liberty.
If an assault weapons ban were to pass, however, it would make it harder for the next mass shooter to kill as efficiently. Sure, there will still be oversized-magazines on the market, not to mention a bunch of semiautomatic weapons. Still, the ban makes it harder to buy the worst type of weapons. When assault rifles are no longer for sale at Walmart, Americans will be safer.
Obviously, not all of these changes will take effect, and none of them will prevent every possible shooting. That should not be the measure of whether the regulations work. Just as no seat belt can save every crash victim, no gun law can stop every killer. That doesn’t mean we should stop pushing for people to wear seat belts, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t regulate our militias.
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