This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published on January 17, 2013 on Breitbart.com.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday revealed his national gun control proposal, one loaded with divisive rhetoric and exploiting children onstage to push his agenda, which ignores the most effective ways to stop gun violence.
Obama had a full-dress press event, joined by children on stage as a backdrop to give the impression that what he proposes is the best way to protect children and to reinforce his rhetoric that those opposing new gun controls are not putting children first. He vilified the “gun lobby” and claimed that a majority of the members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) support his gun-control agenda.
He couldn’t even know that last one. While the NRA boasts almost 4.3 million members, its membership rolls are strictly private, and 30 million Americans claim to be NRA members. Most are lapsed members who are no longer receiving any information from the organization. Whatever polling data Obama is referring to cannot distinguish between actual members and claimed members.
For all the vaunted language over the past couple days about Obama’s executive orders, it looks like his executive actions might not do much. But he also laid out an aggressive legislative agenda of what he wants Congress to do, including banning firearms–all while claiming a newfound respect for the Second Amendment.
Obama’s Failed Record and Divisive Rhetoric on Guns
But one of his orders highlights his own failure. In 2009 (the latest year for which we have these statistics), the FBI referred 71,000 cases to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) of convicted felons or other prohibited persons attempting to purchase a gun. Such an attempt is a federal crime. Yet Obama’s Justice Department prosecuted only 77 of these cases–one-tenth of one percent of these crimes. Abysmal enforcement of existing gun laws cannot be resolved by creating additional laws.
Perhaps the worst aspect of President Obama’s speech was his rhetoric pitting Americans against each other. The president failed as a leader when he said that voters should ask any member of Congress who does not support Obama’s legislative proposals: “Ask them what’s more important–doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade.”
In other words, anyone who doesn’t agree with him is greedy, venal, self-serving, corrupt, and willing to sacrifice children’s safety for political gain. That’s just deplorable and beneath the dignity of the presidency. Our head of state should not immediately cast other elected officials as villains if they have a different opinion of what good policy looks like.
Obama’s Executive Orders
Looking to Obama’s executive orders today, no one should be surprised that they don’t attempt sweeping changes. The only direct action a president can take on this front is with executive orders, but there’s great confusion over what executive orders are. An executive order only applies to federal employees. Obama cannot order action from (1) state governments, (2) state or local government officers (such as sheriffs), (3) private citizens, or (4) private organizations. If he attempted any of those, it would be unconstitutional and he could be beaten in court.
The only way an executive order impacts American citizens is if he orders a Cabinet officer or agency head to issue new regulations on an issue. Regulations carry the force of law. But those other administrative officials can only make new regulations where a federal statute passed by Congress authorizes these administrators to fill in the gaps by creating regulations; these officers have no inherent regulatory powers that carry the force of law. And any Act of Congress always overrides such regulations.
Regarding substance, some of these executive actions could be problematic. Obama is going to order the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research gun violence. Leftist bureaucrats could label firearms “health hazards” and create a whole new basis for restrictions.
He’s also ordering the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)–headed by that champion of personal liberty, Kathleen Sebelius (the architect of Obamacare and creator of the HHS Mandate) to finalize relevant regulations for Obamacare, which could task doctors with asking you about gun ownership.
That could be a serious backdoor attempt for the federal government to build a national database of law-abiding gun-owners. Given that the reason the Second Amendment was put in the Constitution was to protect American citizens against a tyrannical government, such a national database must never be allowed.
Also, why only ask about gun ownership? More children die of drowning at home each year than from a gun in the home. All firearms must be secured away from young children, but the point is that if doctors aren’t asking if you have a swimming pool with a locked fence surrounding it, they shouldn’t be asking you if you have a gun.
This isn’t to say there aren’t any good things in Obama’s actions. For example, the order on training first responders and school officials how to respond in an active-shooter situation is good, especially if additional federal spending is not required. (Generally speaking, police and emergency responders are–and should be–part of state and local government. Public health and public safety are two of the main responsibilities of state government.)
Others might be good. For example, if a federal agency has documentation showing that a particular person has been committed to a mental institution for uncontrollable, violent outbursts and rejects social standards of right and wrong, then that data should be available when a licensed gun dealer runs a background check with the FBI when that violent and unstable person is at the store counter trying to buy a handgun.
Obama’s order for agencies to make such data available to the FBI might be helpful. But I must say “might,” because the devil is in the details. Knowledge can be a useful tool if used properly, but can also give the government power over citizens regarding embarrassing personal or family details.
Obama Sends Gun-Control Legislation to Congress
But Obama’s legislative proposals are a different story.
On one hand, nobody wants to see a violent criminal or dangerous person able to buy a gun from anyone. On the other hand, Obama wants to make it a crime for any private citizen to give a firearm to any other private citizen. This means your brother couldn’t sell you his extra hunting shotgun without undergoing an FBI background check.
Also the ineffective ban of so-called “assault weapons.” There is no such thing as a gun that is an “assault weapon;” it’s a made-up term invented by politicians who oppose the Second Amendment. There are assault rifles, but many assault rifles are not covered by any proposed ban, and many of the guns tagged as assault weapons by these laws are not assault rifles.
These are not machine guns; they can’t spray bullets. Fully-automatic weapons have been almost entirely banned since 1934, and everything you’re hearing today has nothing to do with those. A semi-automatic weapon means you have to pull the trigger each and every time you fire a single bullet.
Real Solutions to Gun Violence
Peace of mind is dangerous if it is a false sense of security. President Obama today refused to embrace the most effective means of protecting children at school: Calling for qualified adults–preferably police officers–to protect children in every school in America. Such protection might not stop 100% of the violence, because no one law can change human nature to stop every depraved monster who seeks to commit a heinous act from murdering innocent people.
But it provides a much-needed additional layer of protection when children are not under the watchful care of their parents. Of the roughly 100,000 school systems in America, 28,000 currently have armed security. Obama’s proposals today only included support for a maximum of 1,000 additional schools, taking us to 29,000.
That’s absurd. We can have a healthy debate about federalism and limited government about whether such protection should be a federal mandate versus a state-law mandate. (The latter is better from a constitutional standpoint.) We can also have that debate about funding, given that the federal government is running trillion-dollar deficits. And police for public safety is a state issue, not a federal issue.
But the reality is that there are 20,000 gun laws currently on the books. It’s time to take those laws seriously and enforce them.
It’s also time to have a serious talk about the broader culture. Such horrific and depraved acts as a mass-shooting of little children didn’t happen 50 years ago, although plenty of young hunters actually took their guns to school with them so they could go hunting afterward. We have a culture of broken families, where too many young men grow up without the daily care of both a loving father and a loving mother. Our culture glorifies eye-popping violence in movies and videogames, where children live out this twisted fantasy for years as they grow into adults.
And thanks to the radical secularism of this president and his allies in recent years, our culture has driven out the very concept of a God who decrees right and wrong and will one day hold each of us to account, replacing it with a relativistic culture where there is no such thing as objective morality, and an existentialist worldview of living for the moment with no sense of inescapable justice and eternal consequences.
Millions of single parents do a heroic job of raising their children, and millions of those children grow up to be wonderful adults. Millions of children play violent video games without harm. And millions of atheists live their lives honorably and productively, living by a solid personal code.
But millions more suffer terrible consequences, with fear, depression, and anger, feeding their worst impulses and refusing to accept the inherent worth and dignity of their fellow human beings.
In the words of President Obama, if anything we can do on any of those fronts could save even a single human life, shouldn’t we give it a try?