Friday, January 8, 2016

Firearms Friday: Executive Orders

This past week was an interesting one to say the least as the President postured in front of the media looking to continue to falsehoods of a decades old failed policy. In a press conference filled with a flood of forced tears, the President announced a series of executive actions regarding gun control. And that last word is key to this whole equation as the posturing and proclamations are all about control which was again driven home by the “Guns in America” town hall that was held last night two days after his speech.

While the discussion that night was more evenly distributed between those on both sides of the issue… the highlight for many was the statements made and questions asked by Taya Kyle, widow of Chris Kyle, who, in part, said, “The laws that we create don't stop these horrific things from happening. That is a very tough pill to swallow," This was in addition to her additional statements stating that criminals would not be stopped from getting guns even if background checks were expanded. 

However, the moment when she truly shined, far brighter than the president, was when she posted her response to the town hall event the following day on CNN. The paragraphs that stood out to me are as follows:

Cars are tools that is involved in about as many deaths as guns. If you are a driver prone to drinking and driving, should we only allow you to drive an ultracompact car? Not an SUV which could kill more people? No, we take away the drunk driver's access to legally drive any car. This is about freedom to do as you like until you prove incapable of showing good moral judgment.

In this country, we give freedom and take it away once you prove to be unworthy of the freedom we have given you. Nobody suggests taking away cars or going through a battery of tests to determine whether or not you might be a drunk driver one day.

My congressman, Representative Joe Pitts, also made his thoughts known at the end of the week following the President’s statements and actions. A portion of his weekly email newsletter read as follows:

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a series of executive actions he would take, as well as proposals for Congress to consider, on the regulation of gun ownership. The President is proposing to spend more money on mental health, though he has not said where that money will come from. From now on, the background check system will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rather than normal business hours. Doctors will be allowed to tell law enforcement about mentally ill individuals, but only until they have completed treatment.

The largest change will be expanding the scope of federal background check requirements. Federal law requires a federal firearms license for firearms dealers.  Under the President’s new rule, you would need a license and must conduct background checks if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit, even if that’s not your livelihood.

I am a strong supporter of background checks, and I have voted that way. Two years ago, I voted to increase funding for the background check system by 20 million dollars. But I have also sworn an oath to support the Constitution, and that includes the Second Amendment. It is also important to note that these actions would not have actually stopped any of the most horrific mass shootings that have occurred in recent years.

The last paragraph is or particular note in this who smoke show by the White House. Funds to improve background checks in general and the NICS system in particular have been voted upon and passed many times over in Congress. This is a non-issue. The focus should actually be on two parts of the actions that the President would like to take… patient confidentiality should not be something that is breached. While I can see the need to know those who are mentally unstable this should also be seen in the same way that it is in the legal system… sane until proven otherwise.

However, here is the most troubling aspect of the announcements made on Tuesday night… restricting gun sales and requiring a FFL for those who sell firearms for a profit. In the end, the FFL requirement through the ATF can potentially be used as a means to restrict sales well beyond the broad brushstrokes that the president likes to paint. There is nothing happy about these trees:

Thanks to a carefully drafted statute enacted in 1986, the president had relatively little room to maneuver in this regard. Those reforms were part of the NRA-supported Firearm Owners’ Protection Act. They were enacted specifically in response to abusive practices by the ATF, which included treating occasional sales of personal firearms as unlicensed “dealing” or seizing private firearm collections, on the pretext that they were the “inventory” of illegal “dealers.” 

At the end of the day, the administration’s big move on background checks was, instead, 
a 15-page brochure or “guidance” which explains the relevant federal statutes and regulations concerning firearms dealing and summarizing its view of the controlling case law.  Even though the president cannot unilaterally expand the law, he can still instill fear in gun owners and intimidate them into believing that private transfers are now illegal.  ATF can take his directive push the envelope with marginal cases that would be ignored in a less agenda-driven administration. They may well be looking to “make an example” of somebody, especially in the realm of sales advertised online. 

Obviously, chilling otherwise lawful firearms transfers could be just as effective as restricting such activity with passage of a new law or regulation.  There can be little doubt the president knows this and why he and administration officials have repeatedly said, “even 1 or 2 sales” can make one a dealer.

Based on evidence from past practices, the administration will likely try to have it both ways – revoke licenses for “dealers” who don’t sell a “sufficient” number of firearms, but prosecute those who sell a small number of firearms without a license.  In the 1980’s for example, there was evidence of ATF revoking the FFL of a person because he only sold three guns during the year, while simultaneously prosecuting another person for selling three guns that year without a license. And during the Clinton administration, after ATF had forced low-volume private sellers to become FFLs, the agency then aggressively reduced the number of FFLs for lack of business activity. 

There is a lot of posturing by the President as he concludes his second term in office. It is almost as if he really doesn’t care about the facts or what is right, he just wants to feel the warmth of the spotlight for as long as possible and try to grab as much power and control as he can before heading out the door. Sadly, the events this week are only the beginning to a very long year… hopefully we can get things back on track by the time November comes around.