The Obama administration quietly has been forcing new gun buyers to declare their race and ethnicity, a policy change that critics say provides little law enforcement value while creating the risk of privacy intrusions and racial profiling.
With little fanfare, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2012 amended its Form 4473 – the transactional record the government requires gun purchasers and sellers to fill out when buying a firearm – to identify buyers as either Hispanic, Latino or not. Then a buyer must check his or her race: Indian, Asian, black, Pacific Islander or white.
The amendment is causing a headache for gun retailers, as each box needs to be checked off or else it’s an ATF violation – severe enough for the government to shut a business down. Many times people skip over the Hispanic/Latino box and only check their race, or vice versa – both of which are federal errors that can be held against the dealer.
Requiring the race and ethnic information of gun buyers is not required by federal law and provides little law enforcement value, legal experts say. And gun industry officials worry about how the information is being used and whether it constitutes an unnecessary intrusion on privacy.
“This issue concerns me deeply because, first, it’s offensive, and, secondly, there’s no need for it,” said Evan Nappen, a private practice firearms lawyer in New Jersey. “If there’s no need for an amendment, then there’s usually a political reason for the change. What this indicates is it was done for political reasons, not law enforcement reasons.”
ATF said the change came about because it needed to update its forms to comply with an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reporting standard put into effect during the Clinton administration. The ATF declined to comment on why race and ethnicity information are needed in the first place or what they are used for. On its prior 4473 forms, the bureau had been collecting race data.
“OMB’s race and ethnicity standards require agencies to ask both race and ethnicity in a specific manner (as done on [Form 4473]), and agencies may not ask for one without asking for the other,” wrote Elizabeth Gosselin, a spokeswoman for the ATF, in an emailed response to The Washington Times. She did not say why the agency suddenly made the change in response to a rule that was more than a decade old.
For ATF to ask for a purchaser’s race and ethnicity is not specifically authorized under federal statute, and since a government-issued photo ID – like a driver’s license – and a background check are already required by law to purchase a gun, the ethnicity/race boxes aren’t there for identification reasons, Mr. Nappen said.
“There is nothing [in ATF or OMB’s website links addressing the change in policy] that supports the requirement that ATF collect race-based information. The OMB guidance merely describes what categories of race should look like if information is collected,” Laura Murphy, the American Civil Liberties Union director for legislative affairs in Washington, said in an emailed statement.
In addition, Mrs. Murphy notes, the OMB guidance was supposed to be implemented by 2003; there’s no information given why ATF decided to make this change almost a decade later, she said.
“If there is a civil rights enforcement reason for the ATF to collect this data, I have not heard that explanation from ATF or any other federal agency,” said Mrs. Murphy.
Both the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza – the nation’s largest national Hispanic civil rights group – declined comment.
Access to the form
The 4473 form is supposed to be kept in a gun retailer’s possession at all times — allowing ATF agents to inspect the form only during the course of a criminal investigation or during a random audit of the dealer. The form is to be kept out of the hands of the government, hence the distinction between “sales/transaction form” and “registration form.” But that isn’t always the case, gun rights advocates say.
“We’ve been contacted by several dealers saying ATF is or has been making wholesale copies of their 4473 forms, and it’s just not legal,” said Erich Pratt, spokesman for Gun Owners of America, a gun advocacy group. “If this is what they’re doing somewhat out in the open, what’s going on behind closed doors? Are these names and demographic information getting phoned [in and] punched into a government computer? Do they ever come out?”
During the time ATF revised its 4473 form to include Hispanic or Latino as an ethnicity, the Obama administration was building gun control cases by saying U.S. firearms dealers were supplying Mexican gangs with weapons and that violence related to the sales was seeping across the border.
In March 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico City and gave a speech against American gun stores and owners – blaming them for the drug cartels’ violence. Mrs. Clinton subsequently told CBS News that “90 percent” of the “guns that are used by the drug cartels against the police and military” actually “come from America.”
About a week later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made the same points at a gun trafficking conference outside of Mexico City. In April, the president himself flew down to Mexico to inform President Felipe Calderon that Mr. Holder was going to review U.S. law enforcement operations, according to a 2011 report by the American Thinker.
This political worldview may have fueled decision-making at ATF, Mr. Nappen suggests. Around the same time that ATF started specifying “Latino/Hispanic” on their U.S. purchasing forms, they also required border firearms dealers in Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico to start reporting multiple rifle sales.
In 2012, when ATF made the Form 4473 modification, they insisted their new reporting requirement for multiple rifle sales in those border states had led to “follow-up investigations involving transactions that might indicate firearms trafficking activities.”
“Was it coincidental [that] about the time the form changed the requirements came in that border states had to report multiple rifle sales, and there was a push in the antigun movement to claim American guns were arming Mexican cartels south of the border?” asked Mr. Nappen.
Although gun advocates speculate on the reasoning behind changing the form, on one thing they are clear: Requiring ethnicity and race to purchase a gun is a clear government overstep, violating Second Amendment rights.
“It’s an overreach, not authorized by Congress, taken upon [by ATF] unilaterally,” said Mr. Pratt. “The president has said his biggest frustration has been not getting gun control enacted – but we can see he’s been very active with his phone and his pen. And this certainly – either intentionally or unintentionally – feeds that notion.”
Vague language within Obamacare will result in nearly 2 million Americans being unable to afford health insurance, according to a new report by the American Action Forum (AAF).
The so-called “family glitch” occurs when an individual is offered health insurance through their employer but the plan is not extended to the rest of their family. Due to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) interpretation of the law, other immediate family members are not eligible to receive subsidies for insurance, even if their income is below the federal poverty level.
The AAF has estimated that 1.93 million Americans will be affected by the glitch, making it “practically impossible” for them to obtain affordable health care coverage.
“The ‘Family Glitch,’ as it has become known, is an odd and particularly problematic side-effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” the report said. “Since several provisions of the law are rather ambiguous, they unfortunately combine to create a perfect storm where obtaining affordable health insurance is practically impossible.”
Under Obamacare, Americans below 138 percent of the poverty line are eligible for Medicaid coverage, and anyone up to 400 percent of the poverty level can also receive subsidies to help pay for insurance purchased through the health exchange.
However, this provision does not apply to families who have been offered employer-sponsored insurance (ESI), even if it is only offered to the individual employee.
“This provision of the law lacks clarity on the point of whether or not the coverage offered must be family coverage, or whether individual coverage is sufficient,” the AAF said. “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), through rule making, has interpreted the statute as only requiring an employer to offer individual coverage, and pegged affordability at 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income. The glitch occurs when one (or both) spouses are offered affordable individual ESI under the IRS definition, but family coverage is either not offered or is unaffordable.”
“Spouses and children of an employee offered ESI could be unable to afford the employer plan, but because it is offered to one family member, the rest are made ineligible for subsidies in the Exchanges,” the report added.
Using census data from April 2013, AAF estimated 947,000 spouses and 984,000 children could fall into this category, and left uninsured. The glitch will affect up to 428,000 women and 519,000 adult men.
If Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding expires, 2.28 million children would also be affected, according to AAF.
The provision could have unintended consequences for employees in the middle class, forcing them to not accept higher paying jobs out of fear of losing subsidy eligibility to pay for their family’s health insurance.
The AAF also said the glitch could result in families choosing to separate or divorce, in order to keep subsidies.
“The family glitch is just one of many problems that will inevitably arise from the ACA’s complete restructuring of the health care system,” the report concluded. “It is an unintended consequence that creates hardship and perverse incentives for American families struggling to obtain affordable health insurance. This year alone 1.93 million Americans will be impacted by this glitch and that number will likely increase as the employer mandate goes into effect.”
The insurance company that grabbed the most customers on Minnesota’s health care exchange by offering the lowest rates told state officials Tuesday that it’s pulling out of MNsure, a major blow to the exchange as the next open enrollment period approaches.
The decision by Golden Valley-based PreferredOne may mean higher rates and again puts the troubled exchange front-and-center in Minnesota’s governor and House elections.
MNsure officials said the company’s exit won’t affect health coverage through the state-run exchange. The state will send out notices early next month to the nearly 30,000 people who enrolled in PreferredOne through MNsure to outline the next steps – customers can transition to another MNsure health plan or renew with PreferredOne, in which case they’ll no longer be eligible for government subsidies.
PreferredOne had a cumulative total of 59 percent of the private-plan market for MNsure enrollees through early August. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota had 23 percent, HealthPartners 12, Medica 5 percent and UCare 1.
MNsure CEO Scott Leitz said he’s had no word any of the four remaining companies are mulling an exit. Open enrollment begins Nov. 15.
Despite a launch last year marred by technical problems and long call center waits, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration has called MNsure a success because it helped reduce the ranks of uninsured Minnesotans by nearly 41 percent to a record low while offering some of the lowest premium rates in the country. More than 327,000 Minnesotans have enrolled through MNsure since it went live Oct. 1, including nearly 55,000 in private plans. Most enrollees are in the publicly run Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs for lower-income people.
In a statement, Dayton cast the company’s exit as a result of its own low rates.
PreferredOne didn’t return calls from The Associated Press.
Company spokesman Steve Peterson told KSTP-TV, which first reported the decision, that staying on MNsure wasn’t financially or administratively sustainable. The membership they gained through MNsure was small, but was taking “a significant amount of our resources” to administer, Peterson said.
Republicans called it the latest sign of systemic problems in MNsure, an issue they plan to use to bolster their election-year pitch to take back control of the House and the defeat Dayton. Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, said Tuesday’s news makes it clear Democrats have mismanaged the state’s health care overhaul.
“If you tell your average Minnesotan that we spent $160 million to develop a website and it doesn’t work, I think it makes a pretty strong argument for new management, not only in the state House, but in the governor’s office as well,” Hoppe said.
But Leitz and MNsure board chair Brian Beutner said it was proof the exchange is working as a competitive marketplace. Both officials acknowledged the exchange’s rocky rollout, but Beutner suggested PreferredOne’s low rates led to its exit.
“They offered the lowest rates and the broadest networks offered last year. I can understand how that might impact them,” Beutner said.
It’s unclear whether PreferredOne’s exit will affect premium rates for 2015, which were already expected to increase because health care costs have been rising. The state’s Department of Commerce is expected to release an early snapshot of rates in early October, with full details to follow when open enrollment begins. The department is still reviewing rates from the four remaining providers.
Rep. Joe Atkins, an Inver Grove Heights DFLer and the lead House sponsor of the legislation that created MNsure, said he expects premiums to stay low compared with the rest of the country. He laughed off the Republican criticism as election-season politics.
Atkins said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement because he expected some losses and some additions to the online marketplace for 2015. He pointed out that despite its large market share on MNsure, PreferredOne is one of the smaller carriers in the Minnesota health insurance market.
The Dayton administration opted to set up the state-run exchange rather than have Minnesota participate under the federal exchange created by the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.
Dayton’s GOP opponent, Jeff Johnson, blasted the governor and MNsure officials for PreferredOne’s withdrawal. If elected, Johnson said he’d sweep out the MNsure board and replace its top management.
Johnson said Dayton himself used PreferredOne’s “artificially low” rates to tout MNsure as having the lowest rates in the country.
“It was all a house of cards,” Johnson said. “Now 60 percent of policyholders are going to have to go through this whole nightmare again.”
One has to wonder just how often members of President Barack Obama’s national security team talk with each other. The federal government is famously gigantic, but the president’s Cabinet is not, particularly if you narrow it to the inner circle that crafts military and national security strategy. One would assume that it wouldn’t be all that difficult to prepare a coherent approach to an international crisis, particularly as Cabinet members testify before Congress amidst deep skepticism of the White House’s strategy to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or in the administration’s preferred acronym, ISIL).
And yet, months into the genocidal campaign of the self-proclaimed caliphate, the Obama administration still cannot offer a coherent description of the American response, let alone a coherent strategy.
Secretary of State John Kerry spent a considerable amount of time last week arguing that a bombing campaign in Iraq doesn’t amount to a war. “What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation,” Kerry explained. “If someone wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so.”
Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, voiced similar sentiments. “I don’t know whether you want to call it a war or sustained counterterrorism campaign,” Rice told CNN. “I think, frankly, this is a counterterrorism operation that will take time.”
By Friday, though, the White House appeared to switch positions. Press Secretary Josh Earnest, under fire from reporters after the White House argued that military operations against ISIS were justified by previous congressional authorizations of force against al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime, declared that the U.S. is at war. “The United States is at war with ISIL,” Earnest stated, “in the same way we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Admiral John Kirby, press secretary for the Pentagon, affirmed Earnest’s take, except Kirby tried to distinguish it from the 2002 authorization of military force. “What I said is, it’s not the Iraq War of 2002,” Kirby told reporters. “But make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL in the same way we’re at war and continue to be at al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
For most Americans, that means an actual war – certainly since the 9/11 attacks, and arguably before that, even if the U.S. did not want to acknowledge that al Qaeda had been at war with us. And the White House dance on war terminology did little to boost the confidence of Americans who have spent the last several months watching the genocidal terrorist army sweep across northern Iraq.
Still, the Obama administration contended that it didn’t amount to war-war because no American ground troops would be involved. Earnest explicitly told reporters in Monday’s press briefing that the option to put American combat forces on the ground in Iraq or Syria had been “definitively” ruled out. Earnest underscored this as a key difference between Obama’s strategy and the strategy pursued by President Bush.
The very next day, Congress heard an entirely different scenario from Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Testifying in a Senate hearing, Dempsey said he “would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of ground forces” if the current strategy fails to destroy ISIS.
Furthermore, Dempsey said he might want to deploy American ground forces in combat to achieve specific objectives that Iraqi forces could not attain on their own. “To be clear,” Dempsey explained, “if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president.”
To be very clear, those circumstances are almost unavoidable. After all, Iraq is not Somalia or Yemen.
Which brings us to yet another bit of incoherence from the White House. Despite widespread incredulity, the administration continues to assume that the ISIS threat is analogous to that posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen or al-Shabab in Somalia. Earnest on Monday cited the U.S.’s counterterrorism operations in those countries as evidence that Obama’s strategy against ISIS will work.
Not only has the U.S. failed to stop the terror threat in either country, but neither situation is comparable to ISIS. AQAP is a terrorist network that holds no significant ground in Yemen. Al-Shabab in Somalia is similarly situated. Their ranks are measured in the hundreds, perhaps low thousands, and they operate in ways that avoid the scrutiny of security forces.
ISIS has developed into an army that has displaced sovereign security forces and controls the ground on which it operates. ISIS militants have heavy armaments, thanks to the collapse of the Iraqi military in the region, and operate strategically as well as tactically. An air campaign alone will not dislodge them from the large footprint they occupy in Iraq and Syria. Only ground troops can do that, and only when deployed effectively with the proper logistical support.
Unfortunately, that is how wars against armies are won. Dempsey’s testimony anticipates that. Obama’s strategy clearly does not, and the discordant and contradictory indicators from his national-security team call into serious question whether the White House has any strategy at all.
If the White House set out to project incompetence, it could not have possibly done a better job over the last few days.
“SAY IT TO MY FACE; YOU ARE CALLING A RANGER A SEAL AND THREE MARINES LIARS; THE WORDS STAND DOWN WERE GIVEN”
Kris Paronto and Mark Geist, two security officers who were in Benghazi on the night of the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks, challenged liberal Democrats to come on television and tell them to their face that they were liars.
The two American heroes and whistle-blowers joined Sean Hannity last night to discuss their book and allegations by prominent Democrats that they were lying. Geist said,
“I would like to invite Mr. Schiff to a debate… We can talk about it… He wants to see and say that to my face. We can talk about it, and talk about everything.”
Via I’m 41: