Government & Politics

Obama's Gun Control Agenda Sets a Dangerous Precedent

He needs to prove he's not a lame duck, but it could have been worse.

Nate Jackson · Jan. 5, 2016

One of the cardinal lessons of shooting a firearm is to be aware of what’s behind your target. In other words, don’t fire down range if there’s anything there you don’t want to hit. It’s clear from newly announced executive actions that Barack Obama knows exactly what’s down range, and he’s aiming for it — that would be you, law-abiding gun owner, as well as the constitutional restraints on his office. But take heart; it’s not all bad news, and even the bad isn’t as awful as it could be. Obama just needs to prove he’s not a lame duck by doing something — anything — about those dreaded guns.

As we noted yesterday, the Gun Salesman of the Decade has resolved to spend much of this year focused on “sensible gun control measures,” thus perpetuating the trend of more Americans buying firearms. His focus could also turn out to be very bad for his own side, both at the ballot box in November and for the advancement of more stringent gun restrictions, such as magazine capacity limits, outright bans and the like, none of which he actually tries to achieve with this series of actions.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing to see here. Two items in his list bear particular focus: Mental health considerations and expanded background checks.

Obama plans to allow health care providers to provide information about mentally ill patients to the FBI for its background check system. No one wants a mentally ill and potentially violent person to be able to buy a firearm in order to hurt or kill people, but we expect that Obama telling states and agencies to violate HIPAA and snitch on patients isn’t going to survive in court. The sticking point has always been who defines “mental competence” in order to withhold Second Amendment rights. Furthermore, Obama’s implied assertion that this will deter “gun violence” is dubious.

The background check provision is both worrisome and peculiar, in that it could have some interesting effects that Obama didn’t' intend.

Obama will direct the ATF to focus on what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. “Quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators,” the White House fact sheet says. “There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement.”

In other words, Obama took a vague requirement and … did nothing to make it more specific. Instead, it will be left to the ATF to look for people “engaged in the business.” As The Truth About Guns' Nick Leghorn put it, “Either the Executive Action is simply Obama paying lip service to ‘closing the gun show loophole’ by appearing tough on private gun sales while actually doing nothing, or this is Obama being purposefully vague to allow his ATF to go after as many people as possible.”

On the other hand, Obama, already Gun Salesman of the Decade, might also become “kitchen table FFL dealer” creator of the decade. If he’s going to blur the line around what constitutes “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, then more Americans than ever could soon become not only gun owners but licensed firearms dealers.

Complicating the process by which trusts obtain items regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) targets already law-abiding gun owners, not criminals. If you try to find examples of NFA-regulated items being used in crimes, you’ll have to go back at least a decade. Even then there’s some disagreement since the federal government doesn’t track those crimes, likely because then they’d have to admit crime with such items isn’t a real problem.

In short, there is absolutely no rationale for Obama changing anything related to NFA items. It’s just a way to say “screw you” to the most enthusiastic gun owners — the “bitter clingers,” if you will. Most people can’t afford a $30,000 fully automatic M16, but most of the people who can are likely Republicans who donate heavily to the NRA.

Obama has done nothing to deter crime. Does anyone expect the gang bangers of Chicago, for example, to suddenly engage in only lawful firearms transactions? Murder is against the law, no matter the weapon used. Criminals won’t comply or be deterred by this new hoop.

It’s also worth reiterating that these measures wouldn’t have stopped a single recent mass shooting, from Newtown to San Bernardino. Obama knows that, which simply means he’s aiming for what’s beyond the target.

Meanwhile, one positive change is that people will no longer need permission from their local Chief Law Enforcement Officer to obtain an item regulated under the NFA, like suppressors. In some states, that’s a big deal, because individuals can’t procure NFA items when their sheriff or police chief refuses to approve any and all NFA applications.

Obama wants to appropriate “funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.” As we have noted previously, enforcement under Obama has become lax. We’re hardly in favor of expanding bureaucracy, but if enforcing the laws already on the books becomes a focus, then it might be a welcome change.

Far more worrisome than the specific proposals themselves, Obama’s actions continue a tyrannical trend: He demands his ideological preferences be passed into law, and when Congress declines, he takes action to do it anyway. As House Speaker Paul Ryan put it, Obama “is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will.” Ryan added, “This is a dangerous level of executive overreach.”

Specifics aside, this lawlessness not only is a grossly unconstitutional executive overreach in itself, but it sets a precedent and a legacy that is dangerous to our Republic.

(See Mark Alexander’s column on the 2016 Republican presidential candidates' Second Amendment positions.)

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