President Obama’s Executive Gun Control

On January 4, 2016, President Obama announced a series of new executive actions intended to increase restrictions on gun sales and access. The statement “clarifies” that the definition of those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, making it more difficult for individuals to transfer the ownership of guns, and expands staffing for the enforcement of these guidelines. It directs the Social Security Administration to determine how to share private mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), potentially prohibiting law abiding citizens, including veterans and older Americans, from purchasing or possessing a firearm. It also asserts a strong federal role in “shaping the future of gun safety technology,” laying a foundation to develop additional regulations for gun manufacturers.

The White House cited Congress’s failure to take action as justification for its executive actions. But congressional inaction is no justification for Presidential overreach. Congress should block the President from implementing this policy, which will have a chilling impact on many gun sales.

Expanded Background Checks: The Gun Control Act of 1968 establishes a series of restrictions on those who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, with the “principal objective of livelihood and profit.” This provision covers those who operate gun stores, requiring them to secure a Federal Firearms License, keep meticulous records on every person who purchases a gun, and run a background check on a purchaser before sale. This provision contains an exemption for a person “who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”

The executive actions clarify that a person can be deemed to be “engaged in the business” of selling guns, “even if the person only conducts firearm transactions at gun shows or through the Internet.” The statement does not set a threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the requirement to secure a license, but notes that “even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is ‘engaged in the business.’” While the Administration relies on court decisions where individuals have been successfully prosecuted consistent with this clarification, many conservatives are concerned that these obscure scenarios are being used to effectively propound a broader definition of what it means to be “engaged in the business” for regulators.

The result is a potentially wide expansion of discretionary authority for the federal government, allowing bureaucrats to target individuals who are selling from personal collections.

To ensure that they avoid penalties up to $250,000 and five years in prison, individuals will need to use a federally licensed dealer as an intermediary, which involves additional fees, a background check, and a record of the transaction. This attempt to reroute a larger number of gun exchanges to federally licensed dealers is consistent with a troubling 2013 memo from the Department of Justice, which argued that effective background checks require gun registration, and that “understanding gun sources requires a sustained and localized surveillance program.” The Left has long wanted a system of universal background checks, which to enforce, eventually requires a gun registry.

To enforce this policy, the administration is proposing to hire an additional 430 agents, 200 for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and 230 for the FBI (to ramp up background checks). This ramped-up enforcement is particularly troubling considering the ATF’s likely intent to target a broader class of individuals.

Mental Health: The White House is proposing an additional $500 million in spending on mental health care, paired with tighter restrictions on the ability of those with a mental health illness to access guns. The administration’s plan is expected to require the Social Security Administration to report the records of approximately 75,000 people with documented mental health issues for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The language is ambiguous, leaving concerns that this provision could affect veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, retirees receiving benefits through a representative payee, and potentially other Americans suffering from mental health illnesses which should have no bearing on their gun rights.

“Gun Safety” Technology: The plan includes a memo directing federal departments to increase research and development, as well as acquisition, of new gun safety technology – such as fingerprint scanners, radio-frequency identification, and microstamping. This could help to set precedent for future regulations of firearms manufacturing.

The administration’s plan, crafted in response to the shootings at San Bernardino, is a sophisticated and dangerous distraction from the real threat of radical Islamic terrorism. By seizing the tragedy as opportunity to push gun control policies, the president is causing genuine harm to citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms, while distracting from the opportunity to confront the real threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Congress should make it clear that President Obama’s “phone and pen” attack on our constitutional rights needs to end, and take action to stop the president’s action.

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Letter to the Candidates — Promise to Repeal Obamacare

January 5, 2016

Dear Republican Presidential Candidates,

On Wednesday, the House will vote to send a bill to President Obama’s desk that would repeal significant portions of Obamacare through the budget reconciliation process. This congressional effort and the forthcoming presidential veto will provide momentum to help make the full repeal of Obamacare a reality in 2017.

Heritage Action has long supported full repeal of Obamacare and outlined a path forward using the budget reconciliation process last year. The 2012 Republican Party Platform was explicit:

“Congressional Republicans are committed to its repeal; and a Republican President, on the first day in office, will use his legitimate waiver authority under that law to halt its progress and then will sign its repeal. Then the American people, through the free market, can advance affordable and responsible healthcare reform that meets the needs and concerns of patients and providers.”

An ironclad commitment to repeal the entire law will keep Obamacare and its disastrous side effects at the forefront of the campaign. The next administration should:

  1. use every executive power at its disposal to halt the implementation of Obamacare-related federal regulation of the insurance market;
  2. ensure the Vice President presides over the Senate during reconciliation to guarantee complete and full repeal is achieved through the reconciliation process; and
  3. sign a complete and full repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), including all provisions relating to federal regulation of the insurance market, into law.

A strong majority of Americans believe Congress should use the same process to repeal Obamacare that was used to pass the law. They are right. America cannot afford another four more years of Obamacare.

Sincerely,

Michael A. Needham
Chief Executive Officer

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Washington Post Flip-Flops on Major Budget Gimmick, Congress Should Act

The Washington Post editorial board has long considered itself the “adult in the room” on fiscal matters, all but endorsing the Simpson-Bowles plan and other trendy fiscal proposals, as well allying itself with respectable centrist groups like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) in calling out Congress for engaging in a number of budget gimmicks to hide its spending appetite.

However, a major recent flip-flop from the paper’s editorial writers should turn heads and spark action in Congress.

The issue at hand is a budget gimmick used by states regarding Medicaid provider taxes. In truth, this gimmick could more accurately be referred to as straight-up fraud (were the federal government not complicit in it).

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Refugee Resettlement Claim-Response

Claim: The U.S. refugee vetting system is thorough, a terrorist couldn’t get in if he tried.

 Response: According to a memo by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), “The refugee system, like all immigration programs, is vulnerable to exploitation from extremist groups seeking to send operatives to the West.”

This popular argument, frequently advocated by left-of-center magazines, wrongly confuses the length of the vetting process with its effectiveness. While the refugee resettlement process can take months or even years, it does not mean that all refugees are being screened thoroughly. As FBI Director James Comey noted, there are significant gaps in the vetting process, due to the breakdown in information gathering systems in a refugee’s homeland. Before the House Committee on Homeland Security, he stated: “If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them.”

The fact is that terrorists have entered the United States through the refugee system before. In 2009, it was discovered that two insurgents from Iraq had made it through the screening system and been placed in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This prompted the Department of Homeland Security to stop processing Iraqi refugee requests for 6 months in 2011, after it was discovered that several dozen additional terrorists may also have slipped in through the refugee system.

Claim: Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism.

Response: The situation in Syria is incredibly complex, as are the allegiances of those seeking refuge. While the majority of Syrian refugees are not sympathetic to terrorism, a significant minority is sympathetic to ISIS’s cause. A November 2014 study by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies noted that 13% of Syrian refugees have a view of ISIS that is at least “positive to some extent” (4% were simply “positive”). Given that aggressve online recruitment strategy employed by ISIS to target recruits in the west, and that current intelligence agencies are ill-equipped to discern sympathies towards ISIS, this is cause for serious concern. Congress has the responsibility to ensure that more rigorous screening procedures are intact before allowing additional refugees to enter the United States.

Claim: There has never been an act of terror committed by a refugee in the United States.

Response: This is not because terrorists have not entered the United States through the refugee system. As the Bowling Green incident illustrated, insurgents from Iraq have been successful in gaining access to the United States through the refugee process.

Furthermore, the Tsarnaev brothers, the terrorists responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, radicalized in the United States after having been granted asylum. This radicalization threat is becoming more pressing, as ISIS is using online propaganda techniques to target refugees disaffected by the current refugee resettlement industry.

Claim: Most refugees are women and children.

Response: It’s true that many refugees are women and children, but that does not mean that many are not cause for concern. Women and children are frequently used in terrorist operations. Since the 1980s, women have accounted for nearly a quarter of attacks in several countries, including Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. Research indicates that women have carried out half of the suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Chechnya between 2002 and 2012.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times called “Terror’s ‘invisible women,’” “a younger generation of female jihadists has come to believe that acts of violence can be just as liberating politically and spiritually for women as for men. A religious woman can deflect her parents’ or husband’s objections by invoking the name of religion, which trumps all. The new mantra is ‘even women must fight.’” Furthermore, ISIS has also been training children for suicide bombing operations.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, The New York Times reported that intelligence agencies have failed to appreciate the role women play in terror. Now, as political lines have been drawn over the Syrian refugee debate, conservatives are being accused of being cold-hearted towards women and children. The left cannot have it both ways.

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Conservatives to Ryan and McConnell: No Obamacare Bailout

Today, conservative leaders sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to continue the policy contained in recent appropriations bills restricting the use of Obamacare’s “Risk Corridor” program:

As you begin negotiations over legislation to continue government funding past December 11, 2015, we the undersigned individuals and organizations urge you to continue the policy contained in recent appropriations bills restricting the use of Obamacare’s “Risk Corridor” program.

Many of us signed on to a letter last year describing the Risk Corridor program (Sec. 1342 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”) in detail and outlining why we believed it was important to restrict its ability to serve as a “taxpayer bailout” for Obamacare participating insurance companies. Fortunately, Congress was able to insert such language into the last omnibus appropriations act (specifically Division G, Title II, Sec. 227 of P.L. 113-235).

In last year’s letter, we pointed out that the experience of insurers in the new exchanges would likely lead to them demanding much more in returns from the program than they were putting into it. That prediction has turned out to be true. On October 1, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that they would only be able to pay out $362 million of the requested $2.9 billion, or just 12.6%, of funds that Obamacare-participating insurers had requested. Absent the Sec. 227 language mentioned above, HHS may very well have simply filtered the difference of $2.538 billion from hardworking taxpayers to bailout insurers for their poor business decisions.

You can read the full letter here.

 

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