By Paul McQuillen
President Obama has moved forward with gun safety because Congress has failed to act in addressing the gun violence epidemic in our country.
While the president cannot pass new laws – only Congress can – he can use his executive authority to ensure that existing laws are enforced.
Specifically, the president clarified the definition of what it means to be “engaged in the business of selling firearms” and thus required to conduct a background check to include high-volume sellers at gun shows and on the Internet. This does not close the private sale loophole but will catch more gun sellers who, to date, have evaded the background check requirement.
The gun lobby claims that if existing laws were fully enforced there would be no need for new laws. So the president has asked Congress for the resources, including funding for 200 more ATF agents, to enforce the laws on the books. In addition, the attorney general has directed U.S. attorneys to renew their focus on prosecuting gun traffickers and other gun criminals.
The gun lobby’s knee-jerk reaction is to blame every mass shooting on a broken mental health system, even though fewer than 5 percent of gun homicides in the last decade were committed by people with a diagnosed mental illness. The mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Nevertheless, to address these concerns the president has asked Congress for an additional $500 million for increasing mental health services and has acted to remove perceived legal barriers for the reporting of mental health records.
It’s a common refrain that criminals will always find ways to get their hands on a gun, often through theft, so the president is taking action to limit criminal access to stolen guns by requiring that lost or stolen guns be reported.
Finally, the president is directing several federal agencies to explore research into gun safety technology including “smart gun” technology and other development to improve gun safety.
The president’s actions are fully within his executive authority and are reasonable measures that will begin to reduce the horrific toll gun violence takes on communities across the nation.
If you support the president and want to make a difference in gun safety legislation, join with us at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. The mission of NYAGV is to reduce gun violence through legislative advocacy and education designed to encourage action, influence public opinion and lead to policy change. With a primary focus on New York State, NYAGV also advocates at the local and national levels for laws, policies and practices that protect New York State residents, particularly youth, from gun violence.
Paul McQuillen is upstate coordinator of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.