No Gun Control Laws Have Passed Since the Sandy Hook Shooting

December 22nd 2016

In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, a visibly shaken President Barack Obama bowed to take action, no matter what a hostile Congress did in response.


As he promised, on January 16, 2013, Obama signed 23 executive actions, and made 12 proposals to Congress. While none of the executive actions would have specifically stopped anyone from buying a gun, they addressed other issues related to laws, mental health, background checks, and safety.

The 23 actions, quoted in full, were:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialog led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

Notably, none of the 12 proposed congressional proposals passed, and not a single new gun control bill has been passed since Sandy Hook. The National Rifle Association opposed every new proposal, including high-profile ones for universal background checks and a renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban.

Even so, as of November of 2013, the White House boasted of significant progress made on fulfilling all 23 actions. Mental health regulations were strengthened, a number of directives empowering medical professionals and doctors were issued, and the position of ATF Director was filled for the first time since 2006.

The results of the actions have been mixed, and in most cases, very hard to quantify. In 2013, the year the actions were issued, more guns were sold than any other year Obama was president. But while gun sales have remained high, gun homicides are continuing a slow downward trend and are down almost half from the mid-1990s peak.

Gun safety technology has improved, but is still user-dependent. The connection between mental health and gun suicide continues to be studied, with suicides outpacing homicides by almost 2-1.

The ATF Director confirmed by the Senate in 2013 resigned after two years to take a position with the NFL, and the position has remained vacant ever since.

Meanwhile, Obama's actions became grist for right wing conspiracy theories about gun confiscation, and while overall murders were down, the pace of high-profile mass shootings increased.

While the executive actions do appear to have had a positive impact on mental health care and gun safety, true legislative action can only be taken by Congress. And President-elect Donald Trump will have the ability to reverse any executive order or action taken by Obama. Given that the legislature is heavily lobbied by the NRA and elected by people in gun-supporting states, it seems likely that the outgoing president did everything within in the scope of his office.

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