For those who favor a strong Second Amendment – it’s a whole new ballgame.
An Obama-era measure aimed at further restricting gun ownership – was struck down this week when President Trump signed a bill scrapping the regulation. The regulation was introduced by executive order and could have been abused to the point of preventing hundreds of thousands of American citizens exercising their second amendment rights.
The measure, finalized in December 2016 and opposed by both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, required federal agencies – including the Social Security Administration – to share information about prospective gun-buyers with the Attorney General’s office and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The aim was to prevent the purchase of firearms by those deemed mentally unfit. Potential buyers who received full social security benefits would be flagged, as would those who had been appointed someone to manage their financial affairs.
The potential for abuse – eventual expansion to cover all kinds of real or perceived medical conditions – was obvious.
Looking beyond the actual provisions of the regulations themselves, a more sinister underlying motive emerges; more red tape, bureaucracy, procedures and reporting requirements all add up to increased costs. Since an administration hostile towards private gun ownership was unlikely to accept that the federal government should just eat those costs, they would have been passed on to the gun manufacturers and/or the retail stores. The end result, of course, would have been significant increases in the cost of buying a firearm – not just hikes in the actual prices of guns, but in fees and licenses required to purchase, keep and carry those firearms.
An alarming loophole in the measure struck down this week could, potentially, have affected an ever-increasing segment of the population.
First, a primer on President Obama’s gun-control-by-stealth approach:
Having discovered that no significant anti-gun bill would make it through Congress, Obama used executive action to introduce a host of new gun-control regulations: Pressing gun manufacturers to develop innovative safety mechanisms; reviewing current standards for gun safes; requiring greater sharing of information between states and between various law enforcement and other federal agencies. Even a new regulation requiring law enforcement agencies to run a criminal background check before returning a confiscated weapon.
Whilst some of Obama’s numerous executive orders on gun control seemed innocuous, the end result becomes clear when the full range of measures are taken into account; the whole enterprise of manufacturing guns – and purchasing them – was to be bogged down in such a morass of bureaucratic procedure and increased costs that gun-ownership itself would eventually become something in which only the wealthy could indulge.
One issue that loomed large in the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict gun ownership was that of mental health. Certainly, reasonable people would not object to preventing those who have been clinically diagnosed with one or more mental/personality disorders from owning firearms, but the Obama approach was to create a dragnet that could scoop up just about anyone who was taking some form of medication that affects mood or emotion. It could simply be a person who appeared, to medical professionals or family members – to be sufficiently psychologically impaired. That presents a vast gray area for government agents to use as a way to deny Second Amendment rights to ordinary citizens.
In fact, many military veterans may have found themselves caught in this very net.
The aforementioned loophole in all of this new information-sharing was as clever as it was alarming. Under the guise of protecting the privacy of an individual’s medical records, the regulation that Trump has just halted prevented the sharing of specific medical details. In effect, the regulation does not require any medical professional to furnish the Department of Justice with any credible evidence that an individual may be mentally unfit to own a gun.
According to this law, “…we will not share any specific medical information with the NICS. When we report an individual’s record to the NICS, we will provide only his or her name, full date of birth, sex, and Social Security number.”
Privacy rights aside, this provision allows for serious potential overreach, since no clinical evidence of an individual’s mental incapacity need be provided. Further, the guidelines for assessing any person’s psychological condition are, to an extent, quite un-scientific.
If an individual has been appointed a ‘representative payee’ – a person assigned to receive social security payments on behalf of someone deemed incapable of managing their affairs – that individual would be flagged as one who should not be permitted to purchase firearms.
As stated in the regulation, the conditions for such an appointment are determined through:
…statements from relatives, friends, or people in positions to observe the beneficiary. This process includes gathering medical evidence from the disability folder or a treating medical source, obtaining information from family members or friends about the person’s ability to manage finances, and asking the individual how they handle monthly expenses and financial decisions.
One’s employers, employees, co-workers and/or family members are all potential witnesses to an individual’s mental condition.
One can see how easy it would be for all kinds of people to ultimately find themselves on a government list of persons deemed incapable of responsible gun ownership. A review of the debacle known as the ‘no-fly’ list shows how easy it is to find oneself on a federal government list – and how difficult it is to have oneself removed from it.
Factor in the costs of additional information gathering, reporting procedures, record-keeping and so on and it becomes clear that this – and other – Obama-era gun regulations were always more about restricting and reducing gun ownership than they were about public safety.
It can be argued that Trump’s rolling back of regulation is mostly an exercise in cost-cutting but a significant consequence – intended or not – is the preservation of individual rights. Trump certainly did promise to protect second amendment rights and the removal of this particularly invasive regulation shows that he intends to follow through.