Today, President Obama signed 23 executive orders in a step to help prevent future massacres like the Sandy Hook shooting, along with gun violence in general. The orders are not yet up on Whitehouse.gov, but a list of order summaries is available at The Atlantic. Predictably, there are predictable reactions from various predictable people and groups.
Here are my own reactions:
The first six executive orders are related to background checks. Foremost, the first three orders seek to make information sharing easier between federal agencies, as well as between federal and state governments, so that such checks are more efficient and encompassing. Keeping in mind that background checks are typically supported by both gun-control advocates and gun-rights advocates, at least nominally, I’m not sure there’s too much controversy in these first few items.
Of course, there are potential privacy issues related to any sharing of information. However, background checks are already required, and theoretically relevant information is already supposed to be shared. Making background checks more efficient and regular seems wholly in line with current law and the desire of congress. (Whether current law and the desire of congress are right is a completely different question.)
These two orders have to do with safety. The first has to do with launching a campaign, the second with using the Consumer Products Safety Board to make sure that guns are actually safe.
As a general rule, I don’t like the fact that government is allowed to use our tax dollars to advertise its agenda, whatever that agenda may be, but it’s perfectly legal — Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign is one example of that. (Personal sidenote: I facilitated the inclusion of a report called What Works: Schools without Drugs into Project Gutenberg) In fact, congress could probably even fund such a campaign through so-called “compelled commercial speech,” which the Supreme Court has ruled is okay under Commerce Clause powers, thus subjecting us to years of commercial campaigns like “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” and “Got Milk?”
Having the CPSC review gun locks and safes certainly seems within their purview. One might even ask whether they aren’t doing this already, and if not, why not? I’m also curious why guns themselves wouldn’t fall under the CPSC’s purview.
Again, nothing seems too controversial here. I also continue to make no comments on what should be done, just that based on current law, these don’t seem too different than what’s already allowed.
These are all related to enforcement. It’s certainly within the president’s powers to set administration policy, which would include focusing on one priority over another. Nominating agency directors, providing training, commissioning reports, and the like, seem more like ongoing concerns than one-off items.
Interestingly, gun-rights advocates (myself included) have argued that better enforcement of existing laws would be better than creating new laws. It seems like this set of orders takes that advice to heart.
These are orders for people to write words at other people. As someone who has made a career in communications, I’m all for…well, communicating things. Of course, just writing words isn’t communication.
Some people have already been — ahem — up in arms about orders 16 and 17, which are — ahem(again) — targeted at health care professionals, specifically to let them know that they are allowed (not required!) to report potential threats. I understand the concern here, that scads of doctors will start reporting who has guns, but I don’t share it. For one thing, I doubt most doctors (or nurse practitioners…can’t remember the last time I actually saw a bona fide doctor) have the time or inclination to ask every patient they see about their guns. In cases where they do have cause to ask such questions, it’s probably going to be important for health reasons. In cases of actual threat, I suspect most people think it’s a doctor’s moral obligation, if not a legal one, to ask such questions when they are relevant.
Generally, I think more people should know what is and is not allowed under the law. I don’t see any of these these reports and information sharing things as inherently bad. Effectiveness is another question, but that’s a consideration with any report or communication the government creates.
These have to do with helping schools (mostly) prepare for and protect themselves against future incidents like the recent one at Sandy Hook and too many others. It’s unclear what incentives the administration intends to provide for hiring “school resource officers” (had to look that one up — apparently it means “school cop”), but I’m sure there’s a lot it can do through the Dept. of Education. Providing model emergency response plans, which I’m sure won’t include anything like “Shoot the bastard!”, is a nice idea. Hopefully it’s more effective than the model eating plan, also known as the “food pyramid,” was with regard to fighting obesity.
These have to do with mental health, and as such are much broader than gun violence. I’m guessing their inclusion here is based on the assumption that people who shoot others are necessarily suffering from mental disease. (Hey, I’ve called such people “crazy assholes,” but I’m not a psychologist and can’t make any general assessments of actual mental illness.) These orders call for more reports and words written at people, and also regulations as to what types of treatment are covered under the ACA. Clarification is good, in my view, as long as what you produce is actually clearer than what exists already….
“Sweeping changes” these are not. Some of the orders are things that the executive office should already have done, such as nominating an ATF director, a spot which has been vacant since August 2011 — and, oh, look, in the time it took me to write this, the president has nominated the guy who’s been deputy director since then. Other orders don’t seem likely be all that effective. Writing words at people only works if the words make sense and there’s not too many words to read.
If the changes to the background check actually increase efficiency and make sure fewer violent people get their hands on guns, then those are potentially positive changes. Enforcement of existing laws are potentially positive as well, assuming the existing laws are good laws to begin with. That’s a big assumption, but I’m feeling particularly magnanimous today.
There’s more to come. As a first step, this is a tentative one. I don’t see anything either extraordinarily objectionable or praiseworthy. Nonetheless, I’m sure the president will get both laudings and lambastings from various angles.