President Obama has had it. Sick and tired of being sick and tired after a seemingly endless string of mass shootings, the commander in chief is going rogue.
With Republicans in Congress unwilling to consider even one piece of new gun legislation in the time since the Sandy Hook massacre three years ago, the White House said on Wednesday (Dec. 16) that Obama is planning executive action on gun regulations sometime soon.
The President met with former New York City Mayor and Everytown for Gun Safety co-founder Michael Bloomberg Wednesday to discuss “ways to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have access to them and what more could be done at the state and local level to help address gun violence in America.”
The White House hasn't revealed what executive orders Obama is planning, but priorities include expanding background checks and closing the so-called "gun show loophole." Among the ways he can do this, according to experts who spoke with MTV News, is mandating a clearer definition of who has the right to sell guns.
What Can The President Really Do On His Own?
Because of Congress' lack of action on gun violence, Avore told MTV News that Obama has been forced to go it alone. So what can he actually do?
"Only those people with a federal firearms license have to run background checks right now," said Everytown legal director Liz Avore, noting that there are sites that allow buyers to filter gun dealers by whether they are federally licensed or not.
"He can't close that loophole with his executive action, but what he can do is tighten and clarify the definition of who has to get a license and who doesn't. Right now it is anyone 'engaged in the business of selling firearms,' which is vaguely defined and makes it hard for prosecutors to crack down on those selling large numbers of guns because it's not clear what 'engaged in business' means."
If that action is taken, Avore said it will draw a "brighter line" between people in the business of selling guns and occasional sellers who don't move large caches of weapons. The proposed rule change would then go to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives, and after a public comment period, it would become part of federal firearms regulations. At that point, she said there's not really much Congress can do to block the effort.
Without Federal Research, Though, This Still Won't Be Enough
"The President is showing some leadership in what he can do to keep guns out of dangerous hands," Avore said, but added that federal research is necessary to deal with a "public health crisis" that it taking the lives of 88 Americans every day.
Without this research, we still don't really know how guns are bought, why people buy them, who is blocked from buying weapons, how they get into the hands of someone other than the owner (including children) or what inspires people to commit acts of violence with guns. We don't even have a national registry of victims of firearm violence, like the one we have for the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The reason there's no federal data on the health impact of gun violence is because of a 20-plus year ban on using tax dollars to fund federal research on the health impact of gun violence.
In 1996, former Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey inserted a 23-word sentence into an omnibus spending bill that read: "None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control." That line made it into the bill thanks, in part, to a 1993 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine that named "gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide." Soon after, the NRA suggested that the CDC -- which funded the research -- was advocating for gun control.
Yet even Dickey recently said that it's time to reverse the ban, telling the Huffington Post, "The harm to our society is getting so great and so predictable that we have got to try something. And trying to fund the science at whatever level would be a step forward."
So What's The Holdup?
The House Appropriations Committee issued a report this summer explaining its reasons for upholding the general provision to prevent any funds being used on gun research, in part because "the general provision's intent is to protect rights granted" by the Second Amendment.
Also this: "The restriction is to prevent activity that would undertake activities (to include data collection) for current or future research, including under the title 'gun violence prevention,' that could be used in any manner to result in a future policy, guidelines, or recommendations to limit access to guns, ammunition, or to create a list of gun owners."
"We aren't doing research for a couple of reasons," Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America told MTV News. "Because Congress scared the CDC away from doing research in 1996 and Congress has continued to stop the CDC from doing that research since. A lot of people don't even know this ban is in place."
NRA spokesperson Lars Dalseide told MTV News in a statement that the issue came down to bias: "The NRA is not – and never has been – opposed to research that promotes the safe and responsible use of firearms and work to reduce gun–related deaths. However, the CDC research in the 1990s was biased in every way possible, and that’s why it was defunded."
Wherever you fall on the gun control/rights spectrum, however, Chen said the issues is that we don't even know what the research could teach us. She gave the example of car safety, and how 50 years ago we didn't know you had to put child car seats in the backseat and strap them in because there wasn't research around car safety.
"We don't know when a teen commits suicide with a gun where they got that gun, or what the best way is to prevent that suicide," she said. "We don't know which programs teaching gun safety to children actually work and which we should get rid of."
In the meantime, Everytown has been pouring money into its own private research on guns in public places and online gun sales, as well as the exhaustive investigation "Access Denied" -- subtitled, "How the Gun Lobby is Depriving Police, Policy Makers, and the Public of the Data we Need to Prevent Gun Violence."
While Chen said the NIH is doing some research on its own as well, the language in the ban as it stands now doesn't even allow the CDC to collect data on gun violence, which "has a pretty chilling effect on private and federal research." The fact is, the research could go either way, she said, validating some of the NRA's claims or some of the ones made by Bloomberg's Everytown. "As a doctor I don't care who's right. I care about what will save lives."
Ultimately, Avore said, Obama's steps are "not a substitute for Congressional action."
"We need to see Congress step up for its constituents because right now lawmakers are left without guidance to what public safety laws are effective," she said. "There's no substitute for federal research. It's really on the government to do research on all kinds of public health risks and concerns and there's no reason guns are the one thing we don't research."