The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

Proposed gun laws fight privacy rights more than gun rights

It is appropriate that President Obama’s call for an assault weapons ban and the announcement of 23 executive orders aimed to prevent gun crimes should shamelessly exploit children, because the rhetoric behind his actions is exceedingly infantile and does more to assault privacy rights than it does to address gun crime.

A rational dialogue about responsible gun ownership and measures to prevent illegal gun smuggling could be had if we ignore the administration’s hypocrisy on the Justice Department’s gun running program, Fast & Furious, which put semiautomatic rifles in the hands of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartels, Los Zetas, and resulted in the death of a U.S. border agent and the deaths of Mexican citizens.

Or if the administration would clarify that military features like flash suppressors on so-called “assault rifles” do not enhance the lethality of the weapon. Like handguns and hunting rifles, they are semiautomatic and fire one round per shot.

Instead, gun control advocates ignore cities like Chicago, which, despite having some of the toughest gun regulations in the country, counted 513 gun deaths in 2012.

They ignore statistics that show gun crime has decreased since the assault weapons ban expired.

Rather than a reasoned debate, addressing rampant emotionalism through hasty, superficial action is apparently the administration’s best solution.

For example, Obama wants to address unnecessary legal barriers in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which exist to protect medical records. As the law stands, sharing of individual medical records is generally forbidden, unless the release of information is mandated by court order or subpoena. Notes taken during a psychotherapy session cannot be released without the patient’s permission as the law currently stands.

Which of those legal barriers is “unnecessary?” Is it that mental health records can’t be accessed without a court order? That doesn’t seem like an unnecessary legal barrier, especially when put into the context of other executive actions announced by Obama.

There is a provision in the Affordable Care Act that prevents doctors from asking patients whether there are guns in their homes. The president wishes to “clarify” that this does not actually prohibit doctors from doing so.

First of all, the president does not have the power to erase parts of enacted law merely because he dislikes the wording. Perhaps he and his colleagues should have read the bill before passing it.

Second, what are the implications of this coupled with the removal of HIPAA barriers and his direction of the Attorney General to review the categories of people who are considered too “dangerous” to own a gun?

If doctors can ask if guns are present in households and aren’t barred from sharing mental health histories with states, how many people will be prevented from purchasing guns because they either have a history of mental illness, say postpartum depression or if they were abused, or if someone in their house does? If this becomes the case, how many people who struggled with depression or personal tragedy don’t seek help because that treatment may one day show up on a background check and bar them from possessing a gun?

Such a situation may seem unlikely today, but that’s because there are privacy laws protecting people who may be in that situation, barriers that the president is seeking to erase because he considers them unnecessary.

This is not only inane but an assault on the separation of powers in the Constitution — presidents do not get to override parts of legislation, by fiat, because they find them irritating. They also do not get to interpret laws once they’ve been enacted.

Is there anything that constitutes as overly egregious assault on the Second Amendment in the collection of executive orders? No, although an assault weapons ban or placing limitations on magazine capacities clearly violates Alexander Hamilton’s intent, as outlined in the Federalist Papers.

But the removal of barriers between doctors and government officials and their possible implications are troublesome. And that’s why the administration’s action shouldn’t be dismissed as mere plication of liberal members of Congress who aren’t likely to rally support for gun control legislation.