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Fact check: Obama executive actions spark sound and fury, but not much to see in them


Conservative opponents of President Obama have called him a “dictator,” a “tyrant,” “imperial,” for proposing executive actions he believes would help prevent gun violence.

“President Obama is again abusing his power by imposing his policies via executive fiat instead of allowing them to be debated in Congress,” charged Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is widely believed to be eyeing a 2016 White House run, in response to the president’s announcement Wednesday.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, accused the president of an "executive power grab." "Representative government is meant to give voice to the people; President Obama’s unilateral executive action ignores this principle," Priebus said in a statement

But the 23 executive actions the president signed today do not seem to go very far, as his critics suggest. In fact, most are administrative – publishing letters, writing memos, and appointing administrators.

There is even one the National Rifle Association would seemingly embrace -- No. 18 “Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.”

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The NRA called for the government to pay for an armed guard in every school in America.

The vagueness of some of the directives may cause controversy, but only one specific one jumps out that may get some talking -- No. 16: “Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.”

There are some who believe the health-care law outlaws doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes. But that’s not true.

What it does prohibit, however, is “employers and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from asking about gun ownership in many instances, and it prohibits HHS from collecting such data,” according to the Kaiser Health Foundation.

Seven states – Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia -- have considered laws to prevent doctors from talking to patients about guns in their homes. Only Florida’s became law, but a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against enforcing it.

“Doctors and other mental health professionals play an important role in protecting the safety of their patients and the broader community by reporting direct and credible threats of violence to the authorities,” according to a White House fact sheet released ahead of the president’s address Wednesday. “But there is public confusion about whether federal law prohibits such reports about threats of violence.”

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It continues, “Doctors and other health care providers also need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients’ homes and safe storage of those firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child or mentally ill family member at home.” 

Here are the full 23 executive actions:

Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions

Today, the President is announcing that he and the Administration will:

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 dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.