EO: Executive Overreach?

AR-15 over the American Flag. Image by Lenny Ghoul.

In the wake of two mass shootings, Congress is once again pledging to enact gun control, complainants about gun violence are once again perverting gun statistics to make it seem like one can’t walk anywhere in America with a reasonable expectation of being immediately shot dead and gun defenders are once again pointing out that the overwhelming number of guns legally owned in this country are held and operated by people who follow not merely the law but all reasonable safety measures as well.

Once again, the American President is saying he will take steps to restrict gun ownership. This is not a new development. In 2013, President Obama, following Sandy Hook, announced a plan to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. In 2018, in response to the Parkland shooting, President Trump’s response was more stark and lawless: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” This time, it’s Biden. From yesterday’s White House press briefing:

“He does — is not going to allow for obstruction to get work done for the American people, but his preference and priority is working with members of both parties…. We are certainly considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive actions to address, obviously, you know, not just gun safety measures but violence in communities.”

It’s pleasant to see that working through legislation remains a priority with the White House, but “executive actions to address, obviously, you know, not just gun safety measures” is a bit concerning.

One of the recurring complaints about President Trump, and President Obama before him, was their expansion of personal authority by use of executive orders. Used to bypass Congress on immigration policy, trade policy, and domestic policy, they became a tool for systematic abuse. When Congress would balk at providing a resolution, the President would step in… and, because their actions would typically be less dramatic than what was being called for by the most aggressive activists, they would claim that they were acting correctly, seeking a common sense solution.

What they were doing, in every instance, was bypassing Congress and seeking to supplant the will of the people with their own choices. They pointed to the gridlock in Congress, without acknowledging that the gridlock was being fostered in large part by the steady shift in authority. There’s little need to demand better of your Congressperson if they don’t have direct influence in the final say on a law. When Congress is bypassed, they effectively become merely cheerleaders and lobbyists.

It’s far too early to howl about Biden enacting one policy or another. That’s not to say people aren’t doing it anyway; there are already complaints about him rounding up guns, or enacting a ban on “assault weapons” as if that is an actual class of rifle. It is not to early to voice opposition to policy suggestions, and it’s long past time to push back against the use – and in this case, the suggestion of use – of executive orders to usurp Congress’ role in the creation of law. People – the governed – should have a say in the laws they are expected to follow, and their influence should be greater than a single vote every four years to determine the current sovereign. Waiting to see what Biden’s final decision might be is not a good option; failing to provide input will likely influence his choices. But that input should be limited to pressing back against potential overreaches, not pretending that they have already happened. Reminding President Biden of the limits of his authority may inspire him to stay within those constraints.

As far as what new laws are likely to be enacted… I’m not expecting to be a fan of any of them. But that’s the way our system is supposed to work. I wouldn’t expect all of my desires to be fulfilled, not when there are hundreds of millions of other people whose informed opinions are also being considered.

I expect any and all gun control measures to be on the table for the upcoming Congress, with the most radical advocates demanding national gun buyback programs and the criminalization of personal weapons and the most centrist advocates pushing for things like expansion of background checks and tailored mental health restrictions.

All of them will be aided in their efforts by recent Republican activity. While local groups often stress responsible ownership and gun safety, the national discourse has instead been solely on ownership rights. By staging foolish displays with guns splayed behind them or bypassing metal detectors at the Capitol, the Republicans have played to the reactionaries in their base while likely alienating many independents. Furthermore, their defenses of everyone from Kyle Rittenhouse to the January insurrectionists have given the impression of a party which no longer cares about law and order or the responsible use of deadly weapons. The Democrats will undoubtedly use these perceptions to their political advantage, and the only people to blame will be the Republicans for handing the opposition the hammer with which they’re being bludgeoned.

If Schumer can get any gun ownership restrictions through Congress, it is a good indication that the American people, overall, support them; the only question remaining will be whether the limits pass judicial review. If, despite the current political climate, Congress cannot pass restrictive gun control then President Biden should not do so, and should instead spend time over the next few years – most notably including the times when the nation is not in the aftermath of a tragedy – pressing the case for such measures to the American people.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.