Our Opinion: Obama crafts flawed plan to prevent gun violence

News Tribune editorial

President Obama’s plan to protect citizens from gun violence may be well-meaning, but it is misdirected.

In an effort to avoid condemnation without investigation, we read Obama’s plan, which outlines 23 executive actions and urges Congress to approve a number of measures. The plan carries a $500 million price tag, with no specifics regarding funding sources.

The plan offers an impractical strategy to achieve an unrealistic goal. It acknowledges the Second Amendment right to bear arms, then reads: “The single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings ... is to make sure those who would commit acts of violence cannot get access to guns.”

The goal is doomed to fail because public officials are not prophetic. They cannot predetermine “those who would commit acts of violence.”

Admitting shortcomings, however, is not accepted public policy, so the plan attempts to chip away at potential scenarios of gun violence.

Many of those chipping points are weak.

For example, the plan reads: “Private sellers can already choose to sell their guns through licensed dealers so the dealer can run a background check on the buyer, and the administration is calling on them to do so.”

This is merely a suggestion with neither force nor incentive. Would licensed dealers handle the consignment sale at no charge to the seller? If not, what is the incentive for a private seller to forfeit a percentage of the sales price?

The plan also invites a collision of federal rules when it references removing needless barriers to mental health records — barriers largely created by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA.

Removing privacy protections for mental health patients may prove counter-productive if it discourages people from seeking mental health treatment. The plan provides no reconciliation or resolution for the potential conflict it creates.

The plan does contain some sound initiatives, but then proposes the “nanny” federal government implement them.

After acknowledging “each (school) district should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students,” the plan promotes federal grant programs and models for both school resource officers and emergency plans.

Once again, we question the efficiency of sending local tax dollars to Washington, D.C., so federal bureaucrats can siphon administrative fees and return a fraction to local districts if they comply with federal criteria, which may differ from local needs.

We understand the president feels compelled to do something in the aftermath of an elementary school massacre that has inflamed passion and emotion.

But addressing issues of gun control and gun violence is not, and must not be, a rush job. In a free society that guarantees a right to bear arms, proposals to prevent the abuse of that right are elusive. If the president’s flawed plan has merit, perhaps it will serve as a catalyst for thoughtful deliberation.

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