Detroit Free Press Nancy Kaffer column
Jan 17, 2013 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left dozens of people dead, President Barack Obama was expected use the national shift in mood to call for serious, significant reform of our country's gun regulations.
And that kind of happened.
Wednesday, Obama signed a group of 23 executive actions designed to strengthen the background check system, clarify rules on mental health coverage and threat reporting under the Affordable Care Act, a call for a national gun safety campaign, and a national dialogue about mental health, along with a group of directives to law enforcement agencies to share information crucial to performing adequate background checks.
The president called on Congress to require background checks for all gun sales, beef up the background check system, reinstate the ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, provide additional funds for schools and law enforcement, and improve mental health services, while acknowledging that enacting any of these measures will be an uphill battle.
Sound sweeping to you Yet this is what passes for bold reform in our gun-happy nation. This is the low-hanging fruit, and it took 20 first-graders getting killed to make it happen.
Now, tightening loopholes in the background check system is hugely important. Up to 40% of gun sales happen outside of the background check system, which Obama says has been incredibly effective in stopping sales of weapons to those who aren't legally allowed to have them.
But the executive orders enacted by the president are largely procedural, proposing ways for law enforcement agencies to share information more effectively, or make gun-tracing data available to local law enforcement. The most dramatic proposals, like the assault weapons ban, will go nowhere without congressional action.
(The president's executive orders also instructed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the causes of gun violence, and to explore the connection violent video games, images and media have on young people -- paying lip service to the canard that media somehow prompt violence despite the overwhelming evidence that gun violence isn't common in countries that consume American levels of violent media but don't provide the same access to firearms.)
Though Obama issued a presidential memorandum requiring law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, asked Congress to confirm the ATF's acting director in a permanent capacity, and asked Congress to tell the Department of Justice to make information about lost and stolen guns available to local law enforcement agencies, absent was any call for change to the policies that restrict the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's ability to adequately track guns.
Under the current system, for example, all gun-tracing records are kept by hand. Computerizing that work is too close to a national database of gun ownership -- an idea that is anathema to the gun lobby and National Rifle Association, and thus to many lawmakers.
Missing was any call for gun manufacturers or dealers to take accountability for where the products they make or sell end up.
Until reform spreads throughout the whole American culture of gun ownership, it's likely to be ineffective.
Nancy Kaffer is a Free Press editorial writer. Contact her at 313-222-6585 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nancykaffer
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