Column: Obama’s gun orders — legacy-building over liberty
Earlier this month, President Obama issued executive orders to ostensibly tighten federal controls on gun sales because Congress “won’t act.” Changes will include more personnel at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as new rules on who is considered a professional gun dealer.
None of the stipulations would have stopped recently publicized shootings, but that’s not what these orders are about. The president is actually grasping for a legacy on gun control in the wake of tragedy.
President Obama’s speech on Jan. 5 was staged to maximize the emotional appeal. Surrounded by family members of those killed in shootings, he wiped tears from his cheeks. He said his toughest time in office was the December 2012 massacre of 20 elementary school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”
Despite the president’s hopes, a CNN poll in December indicated that 51 percent of Americans do not favor stricter gun control laws. Among those who live in gun-owning households, only 29 percent favor stricter gun control laws.
Nevertheless, Obama’s orders stipulate 200 more employees for both the ATF and FBI for conducting background checks on citizens buying guns, as well as a push for “smart gun” technology to prevent accidental gunshots. The orders also appear to unilaterally change federal law by classifying citizens who engage in occasional gun sales as “gun dealers” who are subject to licensure requirements.
Modifying law requires an act of Congress, not the whim of a president. But Obama claims Congress has failed to act.
“The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does [act]. Because once Congress gets on board with gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot.” While the measures in Obama’s executive orders would not have prevented the horrendous mass shootings, the timing is right for legacy building.
“We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world,” Mr. Obama said. “But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence. We can’t wait until we have the Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives.”
With his “pen and phone,” the president is attempting to single-handedly place constraints on a constitutional right of Americans. In support of the president, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., claimed the vast majority of Americans will welcome the actions to “break the unnatural vice grip the National Rifle Association has over the safety of America.”
Barack Obama seems to think it’s his duty and right to impose his version of morality on everyone in the United States. He believes he is justified in “working around” the constitutional limits on the presidency. The powers of the executive branch do not supersede those of the legislative branch or the rights of citizens simply because the president declares he’s acting in the interest of public safety.
By design, Congress has no obligation or responsibility to concur with the president or to act upon his demands. Besides, Congress has acted, but not in the manner President Obama desired. In 2013, the Senate rejected legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases and banned certain weapons and ammunition.
“The gun lobby is loud and well-organized in its defense of effortlessly available guns for anyone,” Obama said. “The rest of us are going to have to be just as passionate and well-organized in our defense of our kids. That’s the work of citizenship — to stand up and fight for the change that we seek.”
Today gun violence is the issue that allegedly justifies the president’s moral duty to act. But throughout his tenure, Barack Obama has attempted to govern without Congress. He’s been on a legacy-building quest on issues like health care, immigration and global warming because Congress hasn’t done what he wants.
The president’s executive orders won’t reduce gun violence, but they will reduce freedom. The primary legacy of the Obama presidency will likely be mainstreaming the idea that if Congress “fails to act,” the president can make law on his own. That legacy can only lead to lost liberty for Americans.
James D. Kellogg is an engineering consultant and the author of “Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller.” Look for the novel on amazon.com and visit JamesDKellogg.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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