Thursday, January 17, 2013

The President's gun control proposals

David Taintor's Talking Points Memo piece lists the "23 planned executive actions on guns" proposed by President Obama. I have comments about a few of them. (The numbering of the proposals is as per the article.)
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
This is so broad, it's impossible to say what this means.
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.
This one worries me. The Obama administration has been a gigantic disaster as regards privacy and civil liberties, and has given us no reason to trust it to make good decisions on matters affecting sensitive personally identifying information. As with #1, though, this is so vague that only time will tell what it truly means.
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.
The secrecy-obsessed Obama administration has shown total indifference to accountability when it comes to determining who is, to borrow the NRA's terminology, a good guy versus a bad guy. There is no reason to believe it will be any more open in explaining and justifying who's "dangerous".
11. Nominate an ATF director.
How long have we been without an ATF director?
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
This one's a biggie. As a Business Insider article notes, "The current law reads: 'None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.' " The net effect of this clause has been to make the CDC almost entirely unwilling to fund any kind of research involving firearms, a degree of inaction functionally equivalent to a ban on such research by the CDC but with the advantage that the NRA, which pushed for the clause, could deny having enacted any ban at all.

The CDC's wariness arose from the implicit threat that the NRA's Congressional allies would strip funding from the agency during budget negotiations. That threat remains, no matter what President Obama declares in an executive order, so I don't know how the President's obiter dicta will work in practice.

(I find it interesting that legislative language forbidding advocacy or promotion of ideas has not been challenged on First Amendment grounds, by the way. Certainly the demonstrated lack of research by the CDC since the clause was added seems a strong de facto showing of a chilling effect on speech for no good reason.)

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
How did "houses of worship" make this list? Why not public libraries, or parks, or any number of other public venues? Why mention any private property at all?
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.

All these sound good, but the mental health infrastructure in this country is broken for two reasons: (1) we don't want to talk about it, and (2) we don't want to pay for it. Obama's four proposals only cover talking about the problem; where's the promise to put up the money? I don't recall hearing that Medicaid was flush with unused funds, so proposal 20 on its own doesn't sound likely to make a practical difference.

I like that the list covers a broad range of actions and doesn't make the mistake of promising any easy fixes. However, at this point the list is just a bunch of good intentions. We'll have to wait for the implementation of these ideas to judge how useful they are in practice.

Finally, I am at a loss to understand the frothing at the mouth of many on the far right, like the governor and state House speaker of Mississippi, who appear to be panicking about stuff I could not find in Obama's proposals. Furthermore, I keep reading stuff like this, from Texas state Rep. Steve Toth (R):

“We will do everything in the state of Texas to ensure that as texas [sic] we follow the United States constitution. And if this government infringes on our Second Amendment rights, which gives us the right not only to bear arms but tells the government, the federal government, not to create any laws that infringes on those rights, we will do everything we can to push back against that.”
I wish clowns who gibber about the Second Amendment were held responsible for knowing the current state of its interpretation. According to District of Columbia v. Heller (478 F. 3d 370), the most recent decision to address the matter, the Second Amendment is not absolute.
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.
"The absolute right to bear arms", isn't. This comes from the most right-wing Supreme Court in decades, for crying out loud.

What limitations are consistent with the Constitution? We don't know. Heller overturned a blanket D.C. ban on handguns so we know government can't outlaw them, but the majority declined to state categorically what was and wasn't acceptable. The only way to know what will pass Constitutional muster (or rather, this Court's; the two are not the same these days) is to craft legislation and wait for someone to challenge it all the way to the Supremes.

Sometimes I wonder if the extreme gun rights nuts, like these elected clowns in Mississippi and Texas, are in need of epinephrine shots. Their paroxysms of paranoid rage sure look more like severe allergic reactions than rational responses.

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