Firing a Blank on Gun Control

Politico today carries a story about the 19 executive actions that the Obama Administration may consider taking on gun control. If this is all they’ve got, then Joe Biden has fired a blank.

Improving background checks, sharing more information, and conducting more social science research are proposals that conservatives and liberals alike should support. They do not infringe on Second Amendment rights in any significant way; these proposals will have little impact on the ability of Americans to lawfully acquire and possess firearms. The Obama administration may want to create the image of doing something, but they are really doing nothing.

If the reports of this executive order are true, they also reaffirm the basic division of authority between the President and Congress. While I think the President has broad powers to protect the country from foreign threats, Congress has the constitutional lead over domestic policy. If gun control advocates want to seriously reduce the ability of Americans to acquire and possess weapons, they will have to act through Congress — and that is even before the courts get involved to defend the Second Amendment.  

There are sensible regulations of gun ownership — which don’t violate the right to bear arms — that conservatives should support, but it would take heavy political lifting to pass them. I predict that President Obama isn’t prepared to push bipartisan legislation through Congress on a controversial subject — he never has — so his proposal will just elevate appearance over substance.

  1. TheSophist

    Begging your pardon, Prof. Yoo, but…

    “There are sensible regulations of gun ownership — which don’t violate the right to bear arms — that conservatives should support”

    Could you cite two or three that aren’t already on the books? (e.g., banning machine guns, NICS background checks, etc.)

    Because I really can’t think of one that I would or should support, but willing to see what examples and policy proposals you could come up with.

  2. Joseph Eagar
    TheSophist: Begging your pardon, Prof. Yoo, but…

    “There are sensible regulations of gun ownership — which don’t violate the right to bear arms — that conservatives should support”

    Could you cite two or three that aren’t already on the books? (e.g., banning machine guns, NICS background checks, etc.)

    Because I really can’t think of one that I would or should support, but willing to see what examples and policy proposals you could come up with. · 3 minutes ago

    Strengthening background checks, for one.

  3. Antipodius

    Never let a crisis go to waste. There is all to gain here. Perhaps a foothold into actually controlling firearms can be gained… and if not- it distracts us all from the deficit monster. Color me cynical.

  4. KC Mulville

    As far as I can tell, the recommendations are mostly that the people who are responsible for carrying out the existing law are really going to have to do a better job. 

    Now if we could only get that branch of government to get off its duff, stop playing politics, and do their jobs …

    oh… yeah … right …

  5. Full Size Tabby

    Uh . . . What section of the Constitution provides either Congress or the President with the authority to engaging in what really is local law enforcement (other than the stretched-beyond-recognition Commerce Clause)?

  6. DocJay

    No thanks.

  7. John Yoo
    C

    I don’t mind more extensive background checks that include mental illness. Indeed, I would be tempted to propose that anyone with a serious history of mental illness be barred from purchasing a firearm. A court could make the determination if the individual wishes to contest an initial finding by a medical doctor.

  8. CoolHand
    Joseph Eagar

    Strengthening background checks, for one.

    How?  Be specific.

  9. Jimmy Carter

    Hay, Full Size Tabby, check the “penumbras” and “emanations.”

  10. DocJay
    John Yoo: I don’t mind more extensive background checks that include mental illness. Indeed, I would be tempted to propose that anyone with a serious history of mental illness be barred from purchasing a firearm. A court could make the determination if the individual wishes to contest an initial finding by a medical doctor. · 14 minutes ago

    I am curious, John, if you consider the president as tricky and evil as I do.  I don’t want crazy people armed either.

  11. Skyler

    The mental illness category frightens me. It is all too easy for the government to toss that label on anyone and make it stick. Observe how many people get labeled with PTSD or ADHD, for example. These are real problems but I can’t help but think they are over diagnosed to make parents’ and teachers’ jobs easier or get more lucrative veterans’ benefits. Mental illness has long been a favorite of oppressors to use to remove disfavored people to the gulag.

  12. TheSophist
    Joseph Eagar

    TheSophist: Begging your pardon, Prof. Yoo, but…

    “There are sensible regulations of gun ownership — which don’t violate the right to bear arms — that conservatives should support”

    Could you cite two or three that aren’t already on the books? (e.g., banning machine guns, NICS background checks, etc.)

    Because I really can’t think of one that I would or should support, but willing to see what examples and policy proposals you could come up with. · 3 minutes ago

    Strengthening background checks, for one. · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    What exactly would you like to “strengthen”?

    Here’s the current NICS background check regulations, for reference.

  13. Joseph Eagar
    CoolHand

    Joseph Eagar

    Strengthening background checks, for one.

    How?  Be specific. · 12 minutes ago

    Force the different government bureaucracies to share data, for one.  That’s one of the proposals, and I think it’s one that makes sense.

  14. TheSophist
    John Yoo: I don’t mind more extensive background checks that include mental illness. Indeed, I would be tempted to propose that anyone with a serious history of mental illness be barred from purchasing a firearm. A court could make the determination if the individual wishes to contest an initial finding by a medical doctor. · 19 minutes ago

    So obviously, the trick is defining “mental illness” sufficient to disqualify an otherwise law-abiding citizen from gun ownership. If I tell my psychologist that I’m feeling kind of depressed because of XYZ, does that mean I get a knock on the door from the police to take my guns away? 

    Saying a court could make the determination is wholly unacceptable, if the person being deprived of a constitutional right of self-defense is forced to pay the legal fees to do so.

    Given the history of governments abusing “mental illness” for illegitimate means, I’m fairly nervous about this idea, I admit.

  15. TheSophist
    Joseph Eagar

    CoolHand

    Joseph Eagar

    Strengthening background checks, for one.

    How?  Be specific. · 12 minutes ago

    Force the different government bureaucracies to share data, for one.  That’s one of the proposals, and I think it’s one that makes sense. · 6 minutes ago

    Not seeing the connection between government bureaus sharing information and “stronger” background checks. Could you clarify and make the connection?

    Again, I think it would be useful to know what in the current NICS system you think is “weak” and needs to be strengthened.

  16. Aaron Miller

    What do you think law can accomplish which non-legal actions cannot? Sharing more information with the national government? How about family and neighbors paying attention to each other?

    Democrats demand action, and you feel compelled to compromise with a “small” concession. But there will be another concession next year.

    John Yoo: I don’t mind more extensive background checks that include mental illness. ….

    A specific mental illness, perhaps. Alterations and additions of such definitions should not be left to a President, regulators or committees; only to full Congress. Other countries have been down that road before.

  17. Joseph Eagar
    TheSophist

    So obviously, the trick is defining “mental illness” sufficient to disqualify an otherwise law-abiding citizen from gun ownership. If I tell my psychologist that I’m feeling kind of depressed because of XYZ, does that mean I get a knock on the door from the police to take my guns away? 

    Saying a court could make the determination is wholly unacceptable, if the person being deprived of a constitutional right of self-defense is forced to pay the legal fees to do so.

    Given the history of governments abusing “mental illness” for illegitimate means, I’m fairly nervous about this idea, I admit. · 0 minutes ago

    Yet again CoC number three comes to mind.  News flash: we’re not the Soviet Union.  Background checks are just that: checks.  No one is proposing we create a police state to monitor gun owners, and confiscate their guns at the slightest sign of trouble.

  18. TheSophist
    John Yoo: I don’t mind more extensive background checks that include mental illness. Indeed, I would be tempted to propose that anyone with a serious history of mental illness be barred from purchasing a firearm. A court could make the determination if the individual wishes to contest an initial finding by a medical doctor. · 30 minutes ago

    BTW, John, suppose that we could agree on a definition of “mental illness” that should result in the non-criminal citizen in losing a constitutional right.

    Shouldn’t that same mental illness deprive him of every other right? For example, driving. Or airline travel. Or purchasing fertilizer. Or knives.

    Or voting. Or freedom of speech.

    For example, a paranoid schizophrenic shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. That’s true. But he probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive either. Or buy gasoline. Or kitchen knives.

    What mental illness makes you say “No gun for you” but okay to knives and cars?

  19. Joseph Eagar
    TheSophist

    BTW, John, suppose that we could agree on a definition of “mental illness” that should result in the non-criminal citizen in losing a constitutional right.

    Shouldn’t that same mental illness deprive him of every other right? For example, driving. Or airline travel. Or purchasing fertilizer. Or knives.

    Or voting. Or freedom of speech.

    For example, a paranoid schizophrenic shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. That’s true. But he probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive either. Or buy gasoline. Or kitchen knives.

    What mental illness makes you say “No gun for you” but okay to knives and cars? · 0 minutes ago

    That’s not the topic, though.  There’s nothing preventing us from restricting access to cars and sharp objects for the insane, but right now we’re talking about restricting their access to guns.  They are, after all, insane.

  20. Joseph Eagar
    TheSophist

    Joseph Eagar

    CoolHand

    Joseph Eagar

    Strengthening background checks, for one.

    How?  Be specific. · 12 minutes ago

    Force the different government bureaucracies to share data, for one.  That’s one of the proposals, and I think it’s one that makes sense. · 6 minutes ago

    Not seeing the connection between government bureaus sharing information and “stronger” background checks. Could you clarify and make the connection?

    Again, I think it would be useful to know what in the current NICS system you think is “weak” and needs to be strengthened. · 12 minutes ago

    There was a Politico article on the topic.  The idea is that if, say, someone files a certain type of disability claim (SSI, or another government program), that data should find its way to the agency that does background checks for guns.