Editor’s Note: Elliot Fineman is founder and CEO of National Gun Victims Action Council, a nonprofit network of 14 million gun victims, survivors and others in the community who advocate for better gun laws. Follow him on Twitter: @GunVictimsAct. Watch “Guns in America,” CNN’s town hall meeting with President Barack Obama at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Elliot Fineman: President Barack Obama's executive actions on guns won't make a big difference
Obama should declare a National State of Emergency for the Gun Violence Epidemic
On Thursday night, Anderson Cooper will host a town hall meeting with President Barack Obama about “Guns in America.” This is part of Obama’s sincere and heartfelt effort to reduce gun violence through executive actions, which he announced on Tuesday.
I applaud the President’s intentions and thinking, but I’m afraid his plans won’t do much to change things. Republican obstructionism will likely tie his new gun actions up in court and delay implementation as was the case with his immigration executive orders. And, even if the actions are implemented, they will do little or nothing to reduce gun violence.
I speak as a parent who lost a child and a gun control advocate. My only son, Michael, was murdered on December 30, 2006, while having dinner with his wife in a restaurant in San Diego. His killer, despite having twice been in mental institutions, was legally able to buy the gun that took Michael’s life.
My son’s death shattered my life. When I could function again, I decided to focus all my attention to help prevent other parents and families from going through the same unending horror. I founded an organization to combat gun violence.
Obama’s executive orders include closing portions of the gun show loophole by requiring more sellers of guns to be licensed and do background checks, expanding funding to enforce current gun laws and increase resources for mental health care.
These actions are largely symbolic because they won’t really solve the problem. Let’s look at the details:
The past 15 mass shooters all passed their background checks.
Closing private sales loopholes and forcing gun sellers to be licensed and conduct background checks ignores the disturbing fact that the vast majority of mass shooters pass their background checks and are legal gun owners. The macabre list is quite long and includes recent as well as decade-old mass shootings. Hiring more FBI agents to process background checks will not solve the problem.
When the initial Brady Background Check Bill (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act) was enacted in 1993, the drafters agreed to make reporting of prohibited gun purchasers by states optional. It is still not mandatory. As a result, studies show that 90% of state mental health records that should be in the database of prohibited purchasers are not.
It’s the guns – not mental disability – that leads to massacres.
While expanding mental health support and treatment is a meaningful and important social goal, it has nothing to do with reducing the gun violence epidemic. This is a “red herring” raised by the NRA and pro-gun extremists to distract us every time there is a mass murderer.
The reality is that other developed countries (e.g., England, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Canada and Japan) have about the same percentage of people with mental disabilities as the United States. Yet the people with mental disabilities in those countries are not committing gun massacres. Why?
Because those countries have sane gun laws and the people with mental disabilities cannot get their hands on the guns. It’s not mental disability that leads to our gun massacres as the NRA would have us believe – it is the guns.
How can guns be kept from people with mental disabilities? By conducting real background checks that include interviews with people who know the purchaser (family, neighbors, local police) and with the purchaser himself.
What's the answer to gun violence? 10 views
Not only are real background checks conducted in other countries, they are also used in the United States for machine gun purchases. This is gun control the United State has practiced for decades – and it works. When was the last time you heard of a machine gun mass murder? Or a mentally disabled person using a machine gun to commit mass atrocities?
The gun lobby has blocked gun violence research by the CDC, a computerized crime gun database at the ATF and a registry of gun owners so that we can identify people who have become unstable or radicalized since buying their guns.
The NRA’s blockade of such vital information ironically gives Obama the authority to invoke the National Emergencies Act, which is justified when the government lacks the procedures and capacity to address an unchecked natural or man-made public health epidemic.
So, what should Obama do?
The President needs executive actions that cannot be obstructed by Congress. That’s only possible under a declared National State of Emergency for the Gun Violence Epidemic.
Some examples of executive actions that are necessary and would be blocked by Congress absent a declared National State of Emergency include universal REAL backgrounds checks, suspending the gun industry’s immunity from lawsuits, monitoring ammunition sales and banning those on the terror watch list from buying guns.
No atrocity – whether it’s the massacres at Sandy Hook and Aurora or the terrorist shooting at San Bernardino – will jolt Congress into action or stop gun lobby obstructionism. In fact, a day before the San Bernardino massacre, the NRA said there is no gun violence epidemic.
It is clear why a National State of Emergency scares the gun lobby and pro-gun lawmakers – it would neutralize them. My organization is encouraging a petition. As we tune in to CNN’s town hall meeting with Obama, here are my questions. What are yours?
1) Gun violence is a raging epidemic claiming 30,000 lives per year at a cost of $229 billion per year. Why have you not declared a state of emergency to halt the Gun Violence Epidemic?
2) Since the government is the largest purchaser of firearms, why not force the gun manufacturers to make smart guns (guns that will only fire if the fingerprint of the owner matches the trigger) by requiring that the government only purchase smart guns?