Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, our nation has seen the boundaries of the executive branch disregarded over and over again. We have seen a President exert power that goes beyond the intentions of our Founding Fathers; power that ignores the natural system of checks and balances established in the beginnings of our government. We’ve seen him ignore the will of Congress and the American people repeatedly as he has attempted to unilaterally push through his individual prescriptions for healthcare policy, defense policy, immigration policy, and now gun policy.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms is one of the founding principles of our Republic. It is a right enshrined by the Second Amendment to our Constitution, which was crafted by those who had just experienced the tyranny perpetrated upon them. Every day, responsible and law-abiding Americans purchase guns to protect themselves and their families, to hunt or use in sport, and as a hobby.
The truth is, while the President preaches about a dire need for action, he has done little to work with Congress to find actual solutions to this problem. His proposal could impact citizens’ privacy and due process by granting federal bureaucrats more power to take away this right unilaterally. As we talk about ways to end gun violence, we must not punish the actions of millions of law abiding Americans and equate them with people who chose to commit unspeakable crimes using guns illegally and without warrant.
His executive action largely sidesteps one of the most important factors of gun violence – our nation’s failure to properly respond to, and support those with mental health issues. Shooters at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino used weapons purchased by other people, shielding them from undergoing background checks. Illegal guns flow over our borders supplying street gangs with a never ending supply. There is no law that can prohibit every individual who wants to obtain a gun and use it to hurt others from doing so. We must work on addressing problems we know contribute to mass shootings in America, like our failing mental health support system.
This Congress I have again co-sponsored a bill to make our mental health system more responsive to individuals in need of help and refocus our resources in the appropriate places. The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was written by Rep. Tim Murphy, a colleague of mine with three decades experience as a psychologist, and aims at a number of problems in the system- from increasing the number of psychiatrists able to serve patients in rural areas to fixing the shortage of crisis mental health beds. When I first co-sponsored the bill, I brought Rep. Murphy to Tracy in our district to host a mental health roundtable discussion with San Joaquin County officials, law enforcement, medical professionals and members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We’ve started the conversation about our mental health crisis, and as we consider ways to curb gun violence nationwide, that conversation must continue.
Congress is already working on ways to help those with mental illnesses and will continue to do so. The President stated that he wants $500 million more in mental health funding as part of this executive action to restrict gun access. Yet when Congress sent him a bill that provided $750 million to that cause, he vetoed it.
Further burdening law abiding citizens will not stop criminals who are intent on violence from committing atrocities. Any legislation pertaining to firearms should address the underlying causes of these acts and seek to strengthen our mental health system, not persecute citizens seeking protection, safety, and peace of mind. President Obama’s instinct to go around the will of the American people and ignore Congress, especially on an issue of this importance, is disturbing.
Jeff Denham is a local farmer, small businessman, veteran and the U.S. representative for California’s 10th district.