Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
New sweeping gun control policy proposals involved efforts from DHS, DoJ and FBI
President Obama, on Jan. 16, outlined some of the most sweeping gun control proposals in decades, a month after the horrific mass shooting of elementary school students and faculty in Newtown, CT.
In a Jan. 16 gathering at the White House, Obama set out 23 separate executive actions and called on Congress to move on laws that looked to rein in gun violence nationwide. The new policies would install universal background checks for gun buyers, and bolster mental health and school safety programs. He asked Congress to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, ban armor-piercing ammunition except for military and law enforcement, and strengthen penalties for gun trafficking.
The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department had worked with the Justice Department and the FBI to identify measures that could be taken to reduce gun violence as part of the president’s new set of gun control policy proposals and executive actions.
Napolitano attended the White House gathering in which the new proposals and orders were unveiled. “In the aftermath of the tragic Newtown shooting, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), together with the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the FBI have worked to identify measures that could be taken to reduce the risk of mass casualty shootings,” she said in a statement issued after the event.
“In the coming days, DHS will expand and formalize coordination of ongoing efforts intended to prevent future mass casualty shootings, improve preparedness, and to strengthen security and resilience in schools and other potential targets,” she said, adding that her department would work with all levels of government “to address five critical areas intended to reduce the risk of mass casualty shootings in the United States: Prevention, Protection, Response, Education, and Research/Evaluation.”
She also said DHS would work with law enforcement to refresh, expand and prioritize public awareness campaigns, including the department’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign.
In his proposal, Obama asked congress to consider putting a ban on gun “straw purchases” -- which have become a particular problem in some border states with Mexico. “Today, criminals can easily buy guns from unlicensed dealers, or acquire them with the help of so-called ‘straw purchasers’ who pass the required background check to buy guns from licensed dealers,” said the proposal. “But there is no explicit law against straw purchasing, so straw purchasers and others who traffic guns can often only be prosecuted for paperwork violations. We cannot allow those who help put guns into the hands of criminals to get away with just a slap on the wrist. Congress should close these loopholes with new gun trafficking laws that impose serious penalties for these crimes,” it said.
The president announced other new executive actions he said were designed to enhance the system’s ability to identify dangerous people and stop them from getting guns.
Among them, would be a move to address unnecessary legal barriers that prevent states from reporting information about those prohibited from having guns. It said some states have cited concerns about restrictions under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as a reason not to share relevant information on people prohibited from gun ownership for mental health reasons.
The White House said it would begin the regulatory process to remove any needless barriers, starting by gathering information about the scope and extent of the problem.
It also said it would improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system. States, said the White House, are a critical source for several key categories of relevant records and data, including criminal history records and records of persons prohibited from having guns for mental health reasons.
The White House said the Department of Justice will invest $20 million in FY2013 to give states stronger incentives to make their data available. The White House also proposed $50 million for the same purpose in FY2014.
Federal agencies, said the White House, should be accountable for sharing reliable information with the background check system and some federal agencies also have relevant records. A third Presidential Memorandum would hold agencies to requirements that they identify the relevant records, make them available to the background check system, and regularly report that those records are complete and up-to-date.
A fourth memorandum would work to insure dangerous people were barred from having guns. Although the background check system can help with that, the White House said the president would direct the attorney general, in consultation with other relevant agencies, to review the laws governing who is prohibited from having guns and make legislative and executive recommendations to ensure dangerous people aren’t slipping through the cracks.