President Obama announced Tuesday his highly-anticipated executive actions on gun control – actions he has been threatening since the shooting at an Oregon community college in late 2015. The plans are divided into four primary categories:
Of the executive actions Obama is taking, this one was the most widely expected. The president hopes to close the mythical “gun show loophole” with this move, which will require all gun sellers to be licensed and to perform FBI background checks on every customer. The full ramifications of this order are not yet clear, but they could conceivably make any gun sale not conducted with a background check an illegal transaction.
Obama’s plan involves tightening enforcement of existing gun laws, a measure that includes hiring more than 200 additional FBI personnel to expedite the background check process. This move, on its own, appears to fall within the president’s authority and is unlikely to inspire significant pushback.
This order would appear equally uncontroversial, seeing as how Republicans have been calling for better mental health screenings as an alternative to across-the-board gun control. Still, there is significant opportunity under this order to restrict Second Amendment rights based on dangerously subjective evidence. Of the four components of Obama’s plan, this one could actually be the one that does the most damage to American liberty.
Finally, Obama will direct three federal agencies – the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security – to regularly review the progress of smart gun technology and sponsor new research in the field. Smart gun technology, still in its infancy, involves using biometrics and other barriers to prevent anyone other than the gun owner from pulling the trigger.
In announcing these orders, President Obama insisted that he was still in favor of American gun rights. He said his actions did not conflict with that principle. “A majority of gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, lawbreaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale,” he said.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that any of these measures will prevent even a single tragedy. Criminals who intend to carry out atrocities rarely acquire their weapons by sneaking around current background check requirements. Many of the mass shooters who have burned themselves into our national consciousness were first-time offenders who easily passed these checks. Others took guns from their non-criminal relatives.
Obama’s new slate of actions will, however, make life far more difficult for the widow trying to sell her husband’s old guns. They will ensnare innocent Americans who are suddenly made felons by an arbitrary system. They will move us forward to a future where the Second Amendment is merely a suggestion and where the president of the United States can dictate his will from the Oval Office when Congress won’t cooperate.