Vice President Joe Biden has presented President Obama with a list of 19 separate executive actions he can take to reduce gun violence – steps the president will embrace in the name of comprehensive gun reform, said lawmakers briefed on the plan Monday.
The president may announce his intention to push the “biggest congressional fight over guns in nearly two decades” as early as Wednesday, said the New York Times. The 19 actions recommended to Obama include controversial executive orders which do not require congressional approval, a possible safeguard against legislative opposition.
While gun rights advocates have been vocal in insisting that such executive orders are tyrannical – the right-wing Drudge Report going so far as to compare Obama to megalomaniac dictators Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin in a headline story on Thursday – banning of any weapons does not appear to be on the president’s executive agenda.
Lawmakers said executive actions the president could take include imposing limits on imported foreign guns, directing federal agencies to share information on the mentally ill, and instructing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch comprehensive studies on the health and social effects of gun violence.
He can also use his office to implement tougher prosecutions of certain crimes, such as lying on a background check to purchase a gun.
These actions can be taken without congressional approval, meaning that they will almost certainly go through. Obama-approved measures Congress will debate in the coming weeks include a renewed and strengthened 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, restrictions on magazine capacity, and heightened or mandatory background checks for all gun transactions or transfers. Congress will also consider closing the "gun show loophole" which allows private, unlicensed sellers to conduct sales without performing a background check – possibly allowing as many as 40% of gun sales to take place under the table.
Biden has “presented me now with a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at Newtown doesn’t happen again,” the president remarked. He continued: “My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works.”
Executive orders are a touchy subject among the gun rights crowd, to say the absolute least. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) has already threatened to begin impeachment proceedings against President Obama if any executive orders are issued regarding guns.
“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment.” said Stockman.
“Any proposal to abuse executive power and infringe upon gun rights must be repelled with the stiffest legislative force possible,” Stockman continued. “Under no circumstances whatsoever may the government take any action that disarms any peaceable person — much less without due process through an executive declaration without a vote of Congress or a ruling of a court.”
“If the president is allowed to suspend constitutional rights on his own personal whims, our free republic has effectively ceased to exist,” he added.
Prominent Democrats, such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Reps. Jackie Speier and Mike Thompson of California, have unsurprisingly come out to bat for the president, while the National Rifle Association, in tandem with other gun rights groups, will doubtlessly fight both the executive orders and the congressional measures to the bitter end. Their fate in the House is a likely demise at the hands of the GOP majority, while even the Democrat-controlled Senate might be a tough fight. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-Nev.), one of the most outspoken liberals in Congress, remains mostly opposed to an assault weapons ban, and claimed that the point is moot since it is very unlikely to pass.
Will an assault weapon ban’s unlikelihood calm the pro-gun crowd? Seriously doubtful.
The use of executive orders will likely spur gun owners to even greater opposition to the White House and increase the number of activists comparing the President to dictators like Hitler or Stalin. As Media Matters analyst Eric Boehlert recently commented, the gun debate draws together two far-right “paranoid fantasies”: the first that Obama is just like Hitler, ready to force Americans into a fascistic or Stalinist state (or “both, if the rhetorician feels no obligation to historical accuracy”), the other that Americans need an unrestricted supply of heavy armaments to fight their “looming insurrectionist war with the government.”
Boehlert says these two strains of conservative thinking are merging to form a dangerous narrative in the extreme right: “Obama’s allegedly pending gun grab will prove he’s just like Hitler, which will demonstrate the need for citizens to declare war on the government.”
Is this a serious narrative believed by mainstream gun rights advocates? Of course not. So many Americans own guns – a shocking 88.8 guns per 100 citizens, placing us above militia-riddled Yemen as number one in the world for per capita gun ownership – that any attempt to paint the movement of composed principally of extremists is ludicrous. Democrats own guns. Republicans own guns. It’s a statistical reality.
Stockton’s threats of impeachment, however, fall right in line with a particular kind of gun rights advocate: the anti-Obama insurrectionist.
The most outspoken gun rights advocates have been the loudest and craziest, aided and abetted by programs like Piers Morgan Tonight, which has invited guests like noted (and visibly unstable) Alex Jones, doing major damage to the image of gun rights. But they’ve also been doing damage on their own: on Fox News Sunday, Gun Owners of American head Larry Pratt announced his hard-line opposition to background checks on gun purchases supported by 87% of Americans, saying instead we need to eliminate all gun-free zones. Gun Appreciation Day chairman Larry Ward ludicrously suggested on CNN Newsroom that if African Americans had armed themselves, “perhaps slavery would not be a chapter in our history.”
And Tactical Response CEO James Yeager threatened that if gun control “goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people,” instructing gun owners to “load your damn mags, make sure your rifle’s clean, pack a backpack with some food in it and get ready to fight.”
Expect this nauseating strain of paranoia and implied violence to continue, even if Obama’s executive orders have nothing to do with banning guns.