On Wednesday, Barack Obama launched his gun control campaign by announcing a comprehensive set of reforms in seven areas and including 23 executive orders. The issue has become increasingly polarized recently in the wake of a series of high profile shootings which have prompted both Second Amendment and gun control advocates to advance their proposals to prevent such events in the future. The president’s plan would restrict and regulate gun ownership to a greater degree than any time in American history.
The seven areas Obama wishes to address are background checks, “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines,” school counselors, law-enforcement modifications, access to mental health services and federal agencies. The more extreme proposals include requiring federal level background checks for essentially every single gun purchase in America, and banning “assault weapons,” all magazines with a capacity of more than 10 bullets and ammunition which can penetrate bulletproof vests.
Reforms going through the legislature will face stiff opposition from the Republican controlled House of Representatives, but Obama will also sign 23 executive orders related in various ways to the issue. Many of these are meaningless, tangentially related or bureaucratic, such as appointing an ATF head, reviewing safety standards for gun safes and publishing or releasing letters. This has led some to question whether Obama is doing this for political gain or policy change.
Other orders, such as providing training for school officials and first responders to handle emergency situations, and addressing problems with mental health care have been proposed by people on both sides of the aisle.
There are, however, some orders with stronger implications or which act to implement legislation without Congress or interpret legislation without the Judiciary. Four orders work toward “strengthening the system” of background checks and multiple others work toward centralizing information at the federal level. These include “addressing legal barriers” in state laws (especially health care confidentiality) which might prevent their making information available to the federal government and directing the Attorney General to review the categories of people prevented from having guns.
Obama bypassed the Congressional restriction on funding gun violence research by the Center for Disease Control and ordered $10 million to be spent on such research. He also “clarified” that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) does not prevent doctors from questioning their patients about guns in their homes. Senate Amendment 3276, Section 2716, part c of the bill “prohibits the federal government from collecting any information relating to the lawful ownership of firearms or ammunition,” and had been cited in recent weeks as a protection of gun rights. It would, however, theoretically be acceptable for the states to collect the information and make it available at the federal government’s request.
Two orders also increase the tracing and tracking of individual firearms. One would require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, and a second would prompt a report by the DOJ about lost and stolen firearms. Further discussion hints at punishing people who make firearms available to those who later use them in crimes.
Finally, one of the orders would allow law-enforcement to conduct background checks before returning legally owned guns which had been seized (with no specification as to reasons for the seizure of the guns that would prompt such a response).
Some of Obama’s executive orders are standard executive orders; others overstep the boundaries of the Executive Branch and enter into Legislative areas. Some of his reforms are widely accepted, while others will prove far more controversial. There has been backlash in multiple states against the president’s plan, including Oregon’s sheriff refusing to enforce unconstitutional executive orders, Wyoming’s announcement that it would arrest federal officials intending to enforce unconstitutional laws and just today, South Carolina’s announcement that it would exempt its citizen militia from federal gun control regulations. This is a long term plan, though, and will prompt political fights and backlash in years to come.