In face of high-profile mass shootings, President Barack Obama called on Congress to initiate measures that would address access to guns and, expectantly, reduce gun violence. Despite several pleas, Congress did not act.
So the President is now utilizing multiple executive actions to combat gun violence:
1. A $500 million investment is proposed to increase accessibility to mental health care and mental health data to conduct background checks
2. Various agencies including the Social Security Administration are enlisted to report further data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to consolidate the process of background checks
3. The president’s 2017 budget includes endowment for greater enforcement of gun laws. An Internet Investigation Center has been instated to track illegal online firearms trafficking. Furthermore, $4 million and additional personnel are being allocated to improve the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network
4. The president further instructed the departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security to initiate or sponsor research into gun safety technology
“We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone. While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system,” Obama said in a statement released on Jan. 5. “In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them.”
The right step
Mental health experts commended the increase in funding, but remained concerned about the continuation of perceived association of mental health issues and violence.
“The $500 million would be a welcome step and we certainly applaud that,” said Ron Honberg, national director of policy and legal affairs for National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Honberg, alongside Dr. Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical Center, expressed concern about the employment of mental health data in background checks.
About 75,000 people, incapable of handling their Social Security benefits owing to a range of disabilities, may be excluded from buying guns based on the new imperative.
Setting up the background checks “in a way that stigmatizes a large swath of people simply because they have mental illness and qualify for benefits … it’s discriminatory,” said Gold. “There is no evidence that this is a category of people who are at risk of committing gun violence.”
The flip side
Touted as Obama’s boldest move on gun control yet, there are risks associated with taking steps without congressional approval. Critics of the government have already declared their will to challenge new executive measures in court. Not getting legislation also means that the next president could unilaterally reverse these actions.
Many argue that the fundamental problem of the U.S. remains its prevalence of guns. Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center concluded that more guns lead to more gun violence. The research also shows tightening existing gun control measures in the U.S. would help but that may take decades. The paramount strength of gun culture and the lobbying behind it in U.S. usually manages to block any such initiative.
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About the author
Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at email@example.com.