Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Professor Nelson Lund, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author.
With great fanfare, the Obama administration announced today that it had made significant progress on 21 of the 23 executive actions it promised to take in an effort to reduce gun violence after the series of highly publicized mass murders in recent years. The administration’s press release, however, does not suggest much in the way of significant executive action, for better or worse. The accomplishments fall into several main categories.
First, a number of actions amount to little more than urging other parties to do things the administration would like them to do. The administration, for example, has asked Congress to pass legislation that Congress has already rejected. Gun owners will be encouraged to report lost and stolen weapons to law enforcement. The private sector will be asked “to develop innovative and cost-effective gun safety technology.” The administration has also tried to “launch a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health.”
Second, the administration has begun to study several issues related to gun crime and mental health. In what may be the most controversial step, the administration has decided that the legal ban on using federal funds to “advocate or promote gun control” will now be interpreted by the administration to permit the Centers for Disease Control to “research the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence.”
Third, the administration has decided to spend public funds to assist state and local governments to do things those governments might want to do, such as develop new emergency management plans, share relevant information with the federal government, and put more armed guards in schools.
Fourth, the administration has undertaken administrative rulemakings, including one aimed at removing unnecessary legal barriers to the inclusion of medical data in the background check system, and another aimed at allowing the government to run background checks before returning firearms seized during criminal investigations.
Fifth, the administration is taking steps meant to widen mental health coverage and to “clarify” that existing law permits health care providers to report threats of violence to law enforcement and to talk with their patients about gun safety.
Finally, the President has asked his own administration to more effectively enforce existing laws. Federal agencies, for example, will now be required to share relevant records with the federal background check system and run traces on guns recovered in criminal investigations. The Department of Justice is being urged (not required) to prosecute more gun crimes than in the past.