Obama has earned ire by proposing a series of 23 executive actions to improve public safety. Mike Huckabee said Obama has “nothing but contempt for the Constitution” and is willing to “trump” the “checks and balances of power in which no branch could act unilaterally.” GOP Rep. Steve Stockman threatened to pursue articles of impeachment against the president if he pursues gun regulation through executive order.
It is difficult to take these arguments seriously, but we’ve already learned that when Republicans can’t beat a Democratic president at the ballot box, they’re more than ready to impeach him. So let’s go through it one more time: Executive orders are commands the president gives to administrative agencies under his charge to take some type of action. They can be used to implement existing federal statutes the president is responsible for enforcing, and to carry out the president’s constitutionally granted powers, such as his role as commander-in-chief. The legal status of the president’s power to issue executive orders couldn’t be more clear. Presidents dating back to George Washington have issued executive orders. And the Supreme Court has clearly and consistently held that executive orders are constitutionally permissible.
Obama’s critics don’t seem to care that he has in fact issued fewer executive orders than any president in a century—including George W. Bush. (Remember him?) Yet now that Obama may want to use executive orders to do something his foes don’t like, they insist that such actions are a profound threat to democracy itself. This is despite the fact that the president’s executive actions don’t even rise to the level of “orders”; most are only recommendations to agencies or promises to do things that every president does, like nominate an agency head (here, to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has been without a confirmed chief for years).
The second issue is substantive: Critics accuse the president of violating the Second Amendment by his executive actions and proposed legislative fixes, like mandatory background checks. But presidents have long issued orders in these areas, including the first president Bush, who limited the import of assault weapons. And the president—whoever he is—continues to be charged with enforcing numerous pieces of gun legislation, like the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady background check law.
Furthermore, none of Obama’s legislative proposals are likely to be held to violate the Second Amendment. While the Supreme Court held—for the first time, remarkably, in 2008—that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, the Court’s decision made clear that the right was “not unlimited.” Indeed, the Court suggested that most forms of gun control, including bans on concealed-carry and restrictions on possession by felons and the mentally ill, are constitutional. The author of this gun-control-friendly decision? That rabid leftie socialist Antonin Scalia.
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