Although the big news from President Obama’s press conference today is his call for more gun control legislation, the real immediate threat to American’s 2nd Amendment rights may lay in the executive orders he signed immediately afterwards.
In his carefully staged press conference the president surrounded himself with children he said wrote him letters about gun violence while he outlined his “wish list” for gun control legislation.
The president’s proposals include a new federal ban on so-called “assault weapons,” a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and the practical elimination of private, person-to-person, gun sales by requiring all transactions include a Federal background check.
Even the president admitted that it will be difficult to get these, or any, gun control measures through the Republican controlled House of Representatives, so he also announced he would sign a group of executive orders related to issues including firearms, firearms ownership, and mental health, as a first step to “reduce gun violence.”
This list of 23 executive orders provided by the White House shows what the president believes he can do for gun control outside of the legislative process. While many of these seem benign, or even helpful, on the surface, a closer look reveals hidden dangers that may strip many law-abiding gun owners of their right to keep and bear arms.
The first red flag comes when these two orders are looked at together:
“1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal 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.”
This shows a clear desire to create whole new groups of people who can not legally own firearms. Current federal law prohibits firearms ownership by felons, anyone convicted of even misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, those adjudicated to be mentally incompetent, unlawful users of any controlled substance, fugitives from justice, illegal aliens, anyone who has renounced their U.S. citizenship, and anyone who is currently either under indictment for a felony or subject to a personal restraining order.
In the past the Senate has considered legislation that would prohibit firearms sales to anyone on the “Terrorism Watch List.” In 2010 Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D –NJ) proposed Senate Bill S. 1317. What Lautenberg wanted was for the U.S. Attorney General to be able to deny the transfer or possession of a firearm to anyone he has a “reasonable belief” might use that firearm in connection with terrorism.
While keeping weapons out of terrorist hands is a good idea, a blanket prohibition that strips anyone on the watch list of their ability to legally own a firearm, and on nothing more than the "belief" of a government official, strikes right to the core of our Constitutionally protected freedoms.
Just looking at the huge problems with the "no fly" list, which is a much smaller subset of the entire watch list, shows the problems in this area. Some famous members of the “No fly” list include a 8 year old boy, a U.S. Marine returning from Iraq, and even the very U.S. Air Marshals assigned to protect planes from hijackers. The ACLU estimates that one million people are on the secret watch lists.
Does this mean that Obama intends to add those on the “Terrorism Watch List” to the list of prohibited persons? There’s no way to know, yet, but it is something to consider. And, if not, exactly who are the “dangerous people” the president thinks are “slipping through the cracks” under the current classification of those who cannot legally own guns? How will they be determined and who be do the determining?
The other worrisome aspect of today’s executive orders relate to mental health and medical privacy concerns. This order seems seems to strip away some of the current privacy protections.
“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.”
While keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill is a valid issue, the danger lies in any expanded definition of who is too “mentally ill” to own a firearm. Would treatment for depression be a disqualifier? What about veterans receiving treatment for PTSD? Any concerns over where the line will be drawn are only intensified by orders such as this that seems to remove much of the health privacy protection ensured under current law.
While the gun control debate may continue in the legislature, for many American’s, their fundamental right to keep and bear arms may be more affected by those executive orders signed today.