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Presidents Bush and Clinton Also Used Executive Orders to Reform Gun Laws

President Obama

Republicans are threatening to impeach Obama over executive action on gun control, but many presidents have issued executive orders on gun control, including George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

First Larry Pratt went impeachment nuts and then yesterday, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) threatened that he would file articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama if he uses the power of his office to address gun control.

Stockman, who must not be familiar with the Constitution or history, claimed an executive order would be “unconstitutional” and “infringe on our constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms.” Stockman seems to get his news from the Daily Caller, Drudge and Fox News, because he believes, “If the president is allowed to suspend constitutional rights on his own personal whims, our free republic has effectively ceased to exist.”

President Obama hinted he might use executive action to address gun violence in his presser Monday. And then, Monday night Rep. Jackie Speier told Chris Matthews of MSNBC, “Vice President Joe Biden indicated there were some 19 areas he was able to identify that the president could take action on through executive order. He didn’t go into detail on what they might be, but suffice it to say, there will be some considered that will not require Congressional action.”

This translates in Republicanese to the demise of our Republic, also known as a Democrat not even using all of the executive power Republicans grant to their own party when they’re in power. Republicans are apparently unfamiliar with the constitutional legitimacy of using the executive office in this manner. Here are the facts:

In 1952, the Supreme Court ruled that executive orders could not make new law. Executive orders are therefore supposed to be about enforcing a current law or helping manage the enforcement of a current law. This is a matter of interpretation, and subject to argument on both sides. Whatever the President does, it will no doubt end up being challenged and argued in court (as it should be).

In 1989, then President George H.W. Bush issued an executive order halting the importation of some semi-automatic firearms after a mass school shooting Stockton, California. He based his executive order on the 1968 Gun Control Act and used it to ban the shipment of what could be considered “assault weapons” unless they were used for sporting purposes. (Question: Did the free republic cease to exist then?)

In 1998, then President Bill Clinton also issued an executive order to ban the importation of more than 50 semiautomatic “assault weapons” that had been modified to get through that “sporting purposes” exemption.

In 2001, Clinton moved again via executive order, banning the importation of assault pistols.

One issue that Obama could address via executive order would be the sale of firearms, which is not covered under the Second Amendment. Obama could base this on the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, which levied a tax on the transfer of firearms. The President could use an executive order to institute a database and background checks centered on the sale of firearms; in other words, managing an existing law.

But Obama could also follow George W. Bush’s example and use the “security” of the nation in order to justify just about any law he wanted to impose regarding gun safety (I’m not advocating this, but it’s worth mentioning since Republicans don’t seem to understand how their abuses of power can be used against them later).

Obama, a constitutional lawyer, appears to have used his executive power well within the law for gun regulation so far. Reuters reports, “A federal appeals court signaled on Wednesday it was prepared to uphold a regulation designed to detect the sale of semi-automatic rifles to Mexican drug cartels, one of the few gun control measures put forward so far by the Obama administration.” Republicans have also tried to defund this gun reporting regulation.

Almost all of the gun control measures we’ve undertaken have come on the heels of a tragedy. In 1934 after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, FDR signed the National Firearms Act (mentioned above as a possible basis for Obama’s executive order) and in 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, President George W. Bush expanded the federal background check database.

Freshman Stockman is threatening to “defund the White House” if Obama dares to use his office as if he were the President. Duly noted.

Stockman served a term in Congress from 1995 to 1997 (suggesting that he might know what happened in 1989 and 1998), but reality may not be playing a large role here as Stockman is the guy who introduced “The Safe Schools Act” this month, a bill aimed at repealing federal laws mandating gun free zones around schools.

Update Jan 16: The President will sign 23 executive orders to supplement his call for gun safety legislation.

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