President Obama’s gun orders aren’t so benign

Maureen Martin Senior Fellow for Legal Affairs, The Heartland Institute
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Most pundits agree that the 23 gun-related executive orders issued by President Barack Obama two weeks ago are tame and unobjectionable.

Not so fast.

The measures the president is proposing would vastly and arbitrarily expand the number of people who can be denied their constitutional right to own a gun.

Let’s look at the facts.

Right now, the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits legal handgun ownership by an individual who:

● Has been convicted of or charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.

● Has been convicted of a state misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for more than two years.

● Is the subject of a warrant for a felony or misdemeanor.

● Has been convicted for use or possession of a controlled substance or who has multiple arrests for these charges or who has been found through a recent drug test to be using them.

● Has been adjudicated as mentally defective or been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or found incompetent to handle his own affairs.

● Is an illegal alien.

● Has been dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.

● Has renounced his U.S. citizenship.

● Is the subject of a protective order restraining him from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner.

● Has been convicted of a misdemeanor involving the use or attempted use of force against a spouse or parent.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 established a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation recording all this information, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICB).

The virtue of the NICB is that information includable in it must be unambiguous, a matter of public record, and verifiable. Unverifiable assumptions, rumors, suppositions, speculation, and accusations cannot be included. Otherwise, the constitutional rights of the individual would be violated.

But the president’s executive orders, to quote them, include:

● “Addressing unnecessary legal barriers in health laws [such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] that prevent some states from making information available about those prohibited from having guns.”

HIPAA doesn’t protect any information legally includable in the NICB database. This executive order clearly seeks information confided to a doctor or psychologist unrelated to any conviction.

● “Improving incentives for states to share information with the system.”

Information legally includable in the NICB database is public record. So why do states need incentives? And what information is this order aimed at, exactly? We don’t know.

● “Ensuring federal agencies share relevant information with the system.”

It is entirely unclear what “relevant information” consists of. As noted, the NICB database includes public records and verified information. So what other information do federal agencies have that is supposedly “relevant”?

Maybe these orders are harmless. However, they seem to amount to an invitation to include rumor and supposition in the NICB database. The president doesn’t explain what he is trying to accomplish and why these measures are needed. Maybe there is a good explanation, but he hasn’t given one and the media hasn’t demanded one. That’s the problem.

The president also proposes banning magazines with more than 10 bullets. This is reminiscent of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said recently — or, rather, screamed — “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness now!”

But this is hardly madness. Ask the Georgia mother whose home was invaded recently while her husband was at work. She hid but had a .38 caliber revolver to defend her nine-year-old twins. When the intruder broke into her hiding place, she shot him five times in the face and neck. Still standing even after those five shots, the intruder fled. If there had been two intruders, or three, that mother and her children could have been injured or killed, under the president’s order, because she would have run out of ammunition with no time to reload.

Some of the president’s other executive orders are equally ill-conceived:

● Spend $4 billion to help “keep” 15,000 police on the streets.

It is not up to the federal government to fund local police. And it is unclear how increasing the number of police will reduce gun violence. Also, federal funding for local police will come with strings attached, further increasing the cost.

● Authorizing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes of gun violence and the means to prevent it.

Most gun violence happens on the streets in poor neighborhoods of major cities such as Chicago. We already know why it happens: because the local economies are trashed and young people there lack hope for a better future. Gun control hasn’t stopped this, and all of the executive orders in the world can’t help.

● Develop model responses to shooters for institutions like schools, churches, and colleges.

Well, that’s already been done, thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s called “run” and “hide” and fight only as a last resort. View the video here. Whatever happened to “Let’s roll”?

As usual, the media is accepting the president’s actions without holding him accountable. He needs to explain exactly what he is proposing and why his chosen means will help.

Maureen Martin, J.D. (mmartin@heartland.org) is senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute.