Column: Failures of executive action on gun control

Depending on where they call home, students probably heard very different versions of President Obama's executive action on gun control that was announced over winter break. Liberal households heard about the President's teary-eyed plea for common sense solutions that the NRA-owned Republicans have been blocking in the legislature. Conservatives, on the other hand, learned of Obama's gun grab and how it's only step one of the liberal agenda's assault on the Second Amendment and law-abiding citizens. In some ways, both versions are correct while in others, they're both wrong. 

For all of the talk on both sides of the issue, the practical effect of the measures is extremely small. They call not for a sweeping restructuring of our existing law, but for marginal changes. Probably the most overlooked action (perhaps because of Republicans' general support for law enforcement budgets) will be increased funding for federal agencies related to firearms, earmarked for more thorough enforcement of laws already on the books. Increased funding for mental health services and reporting of mental illnesses to the agencies that perform background checks should also meet largely bipartisan support, as it's the Republicans' go-to solution for gun violence. The most controversial section is the expansion in the number and types of firearm purchases that require background checks. 

Firearms dealers are required by federal law to run background checks on their customers before the sale of any gun. Private sellers who are not "in the business" of gun sales, however, are specifically exempted from this requirement. Coined by gun-control advocates, the term  "gun show loophole" refers to these kinds of sellers, frequently found at trade shows or on online exchanges, who are often selling a single firearm and are not required to complete a background check before their transaction.  This exemption was intentionally crafted into the original bill but has sense become immensely unpopular- 90 percent of Americans now want this "loophole" closed, including 82 percent of gun owners. 

Republican leadership is wasting time and energy in their opposition to the gun control aspect of this order, which is extremely modest. What they (and Democrats with an eye to the future) ought to be paying attention to is the precedent set by the issuance of an executive order to override sections of existing laws, even if they are unpopular.

Even those who support President Obama should be wary of allowing the executive this sort of power. President Rubio could, under this precedent, issue an executive order to override sections of the Affordable Care Act and allow insurers to deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions. President Trump (heaven forbid) could use it to deny citizenship to children of immigrants. 

The proper way to fix bad or outdated sections of laws is by passing amendments or repeals through the legislature, or, in extreme cases, involving violations of constitutional rights through the judiciary. Neither this president nor any future president should have the power to write, change or repeal laws on their own. 


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