At a White House press conference on Jan. 12, Barack Obama signed 23 executive actionspertaining to gun control. These marked the president’s first actions inresponse to a school shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary inNewtown, Conn. on Dec. 14. The shooting resulted in the deaths of 20 studentsand six staff members.
Theexecutive actions detailed several measures, including the nomination of apermanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, removinglegal red tape for police investigations on shootings and launching a nationaldialogue on mental health.
Obamaalso urged Congress to pass legislation that bans assault rifles and high-capacitygun magazines, as well as to implement universal background checks on all gun purchases,which would, in part, close the “gun show loophole,” according to CNN.
Atthe press conference the president called his proposals “common sense measures”that would prevent shootings such as the one in Newtown from happening againwhile “still protecting the 2nd Amendment and the rights of gunowners.”
Sincethe Newtown shooting, there has been an increased call for gun control measuresin both the political and public spheres. According to a New York Times/CBSPoll, support for a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons and a ban on thesale of high capacity magazines has risen to 53 percent and 63 percent nationwiderespectively.
Inthe same poll, the call for tightened gun control laws has risen to 54 percent,up from 39 percent in April. Gun control supporters such as the Brady Center toPrevent Gun Violence and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have praised theactions and public response to guns. Bloomberg also helped to spearheadlegislation in New York state to strengthen some of the toughest gun controllaws in the country, and the first since the Newtown shooting.
Therehas been backlash against these new gun control actions, however. The NationalRifle Association (NRA)—a vocal opponent of new gun control laws andpolicy—accused Obama’s policies of “attacking firearms and ignoring children” and“not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation” in a statement released lastweek.
JamesCalder, a political science professor at UTSA and a registered gun owner, commentedon whether Obama’s executive actions were the proper course of action or wouldjust create more “red tape.”
“Ithink it’s going to add to enforcement, but, like anything else, you can’t knowat this point. You can’t know about the effectiveness of any one single executiveorder until time has passed,” said Calder, who teaches a course on public policy.
“Clearlymore red tape—as people like to use that term—is something that we need in thisgun management problem that we have in American society,” said Calder.
TheNRA had proposed their own solution in response to the Newtown shooting,calling for volunteer armed guard troops to be placed in every school toprotect against shooters. The group released a highly publicized TV ad beforeObama’s actions last week, calling the president a “hypocrite” for his responseon gun control.
Thead suggested that while Obama publically opposed the group’s proposal, his owndaughters already attended a school with its own armed guards; the claim waslater proven false by multiple sources.
Afew places have begun implementing armed guards in schools, including Marlboro,New Jersey, where uniformed police officers now patrol school grounds,according to the New York Daily News. However, the proposal has been criticizedas well, such as by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who on CNNsaid the idea of armed guards in every school was not a“wise idea.”
Thegun management problem, according to Calder, is “probably not going to beaddressed very easily by a weak piece of legislation—it’s going to be addressedby going after those pieces of legislation that seem to create the most seriousproblems.”
Whilesome politicians believe that the solution lieswithin President Obama’s proposed stricter gun laws, others insist that individualresourcefulness is the proper course of action.
Governor Rick Perry and Lt.Governor David Dewhurst believe that the president’s call to Congress to banhigh capacity magazines and assault weapons violates the Constitution, and is astrategic effort to enact specific left-wing initiatives.
Dewhurst announced at aconservative policy summit in early January that he intended to propose thatthe state consider funding specific firearm and defense training programs forschool administrators and employees. His proposal was met with praise andcriticism.
State Representative JasonVillalba (R) visualizes a program similar to the federal air marshal trainingthat would deputize school employees to use firearms as the last resort duringan attack, said the Texas Tribune. Calder argues Dewhurst’s policy is dangerousand could result in “an arms race in the classroom.”
The Texas Tribune also statedthat State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin)plan to file legislation that would require background checks at gun shows andfor other unregulated gun distributors as well as training for individualsbuying specific firearms.
“How many more tragedies mustwe endure before we step up and take action?” Ellis asked in a public address.Without specifically addressing the issue of gun shows in his press release onJan. 16, Perry insisted the political left is using the media and the death ofthe children in Connecticut as a method by which to advance a preexistingpolitical agenda. “Laws, the only redoubt of secularism, will not suffice. Letus all return to our places of worship and pray for help.”
However, there are argumentsthat gun control is not the main issue to be examined, but rather the issue is mentalhealth care accessibility and funding to state hospitals. Funding for mentalhealth programs varies by state, with Texas ranking 49 in per capita spendingin mental health agency expenditures, according to NationalAssociation of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute.
Robert Levy, chairman of theCato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, told the New York Times “toreduce the risk of multi-victim violence, we would be better advised to focuson early detection and treatment of mental illness.”
Earlier this month,Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick proposed legislation that would require courtsto send all relevant mental health records to the state’s criminal justiceinformation system so the federal government could include this information ina national gun license registry.
Sally Satel, psychiatrist andresident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, debated on the New YorkTimes opinion page that the severely mentally ill commit only a small fractionof homicides, about 3 to 5 percent. “I applaud efforts to improve the way wecare and monitor the mentally ill, but it’s not the cure for gun violence,”stated Satel.
There are varying opinions onthe level of proper response to the recent tragedies that have struck ournation. Whether improving each state’s mental health resources, from privateinstitutions to neighborhood counseling centers, or enacting provisions toreduce the country’s arsenal, Calder asserts we have “to create some sort ofcomprehensive legislation that addresses a variety of aspects of this problem.”Whichever course of action, “something has to be done.”