President Obama’s executive orders on gun control, announced Jan. 5, represent his administration’s only substantial action on combatting the United States’ epidemic of gun violence. With a comprehensive assault weapons ban rejected by the Senate in 2013 and Republicans currently controlling both houses of Congress, these executive orders will likely be the only gun control reforms we can expect in the immediate future. While skeptics have taken issue with the watered-down actions proposed by the president, the measures will have a substantial effect on reducing gun accessibility for dangerous individuals. The significant expansion of background checks, increased mental health reporting and strengthening of law enforcement capabilities are all promising steps towards a safer United States.
The first important part of President Obama’s actions includes serious changes to the background checks system, closing loopholes that allow purchases made at gun shows or through corporate entities to skirt background check requirements. The president has also pledged to substantially increase personnel to help modernize the database to both process checks 24/7 and inform local law enforcement when prohibited individuals attempt to purchase a firearm. By closing the glaring loopholes in our nation’s background check system, the White House will help to ensure that dangerous individuals have a much more difficult time acquiring firearms.
The second significant section of the executive actions directly focuses on combatting gun violence by improving standards of mental health care and ensuring that those suffering from serious mental health issues do not have access to firearms. A tactic favored by the NRA in response to mass shootings is attributing the problem to mental illness rather than the need for stronger gun control. These actions specifically address that criticism by pledging a $500 million investment in mental health treatment and updates for the background check system that include information about the mental health of potential gun buyers. Choosing to address the issue of mental illness is an important preventative step in keeping firearms away from those who would do others harm. President Obama has also called for a substantial increase in staff at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to help ensure proper enforcement of his executive actions.
America’s problem with gun violence is still rampant, with 51 mass shootings since 1997 and more than 33,000 gun-related deaths per year. A complete solution to this epidemic will likely require more comprehensive and controversial laws than President Obama proposed at the beginning of this month. However, these executive actions will have a significant and positive effect on public safety and at least make it harder for criminals and the mentally unstable to purchase firearms. These proposals, while not totally satisfactory or sufficient, are still a very strong step in the right direction.
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