On Jan. 5, the President of the United States announced his plan designed to address four major factors in gun violence, captivating his audience with tears and “drastic” action. In the ensuing weeks, critics have attacked his outward emotion during the speech and the actions he is taking, and they have argued whether he has a right to take these actions at all. In reality, though, Obama’s actions are not that “drastic” at all, and our very upheaval about their implementation says something about our political system.
President Obama first strives to “keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.” This goal seems noble on the surface and on other layers as well: if someone has a history of violence, it is not prudent for us as a nation to give them the tools to take that violence to another, more gruesome level. The only portion of this executive action that causes justifiable fear of a controlling state is the use of the words “wrong hands.” This is worrisome only from the perspective that a democracy can’t have a government deciding that those “wrong hands” are actually only those of their political enemies.
This fear dovetails into another of Obama’s priorities: “Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.” I think it is important to support sufferers of mental health problems. Many people that go on to commit violent crimes (along with their victims) could have been saved with proper treatment and care. However, reporting this on background checks could be risky. Even if I have a history of anxiety or depression, I am still a person with Second Amendment rights. I would propose that a clear line should be drawn here as well, making clear that only mental health sufferers with a violent past will have flags on their background checks. There is a fine line here between safety and our Supreme Court-upheld right to privacy.
The third goal is to “make our communities safer from gun violence.” This is pretty generic, but this point includes requests for 200 additional positions in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). This personnel increase would bolster our efforts to monitor stolen firearms and track illegal sales of firearms through the new Internet Investigation Center. This is actually the president requesting funding to respond to and enforce already illegal things. These are not new rules, just a stricter teacher.
Finally, President Obama has “directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.” This final priority is simply asking to increase research in a field that may be even more drastically vital to our citizens than other research being conducted at the moment by that same department.
The two actions that may open up the ability to encroach on our rights to privacy need to be altered in order to specify who is unable to purchase a gun. If this is done, these actions are good. That said, a bit of the uproar is due to the president’s role in developing these laws. In the past month, President Obama has released a series of executive actions, including a proclamation announcing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday for 2016, another announcing National Stalking Awareness Month, and a third implementing the African Growth and Opportunity Act. In fact, in the past month, the president has made quite a few proclamations, memorandums, and executive orders in his job as the president, but it was the actions to curb gun violence, of course, that really caught the general public’s attention. The president is fully within his rights to direct a portion of the executive branch (ATF) to increase funding in certain areas and to crack down on already existing, Congress-approved laws. We spend a lot of time blaming the president for our problems, but getting mad at him for using the avenues open to him to solve them seems unnecessary.