In his first weekly address of the New Year, President Obama announced that he would pursue Executive Action as a way to implement gun control legislation. It is a controversial measure because it is a controversial subject and also because he is going forward without the consent of Congress.
What is an Executive Order?
As btw addressed back in the summer, the meaning of our country’s Constitution has remained open for interpretation by many scholars, legislators, and administrations. This has allowed the document to be flexible enough through the centuries to meet changing social needs and issues unforeseen in the eighteenth century. But people who hold strongly to a very strict interpretation of the Constitution’s original meaning often dislike this flexible approach to the document’s meaning.
Article II Section 1, Clause 1 of the Constitution grants the president the general authority to issue an Executive Order (EO), which carries the full weight of the law. In order to issue such an order, the president must be able to find support in the Constitution. But both Congress and the Supreme Court have the authority to overturn the orders. Congress can also refuse to provide the proper funding needed to carry them out.
Executive Orders date back to the George Washington Administration. Beginning in the mid 1800s, these orders were assigned a sequential number by the Office of the Federal Register. Franklin D. Roosevelt granted the most, by a wide margin, with 3,522. But those numbers should be understood within the context of his extremely long time in the White House (1933-1945), as well as his unusual set of national crises faced (the Great Depression and World War II). Not all Executive Orders are created equal, Some make dramatic changes to policy, while others are little more than “housekeeping” measures.
Some historic Executive Orders include
- Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 – Two years before the Thirteenth Amendment officially ended slavery in the United States, President Abraham Lincoln issued this presidential order that declared all enslaved people in the South to be freed. Those opposed to Lincoln’s action saw this action as an abuse of presidential power. Others believed that the action would lead enslaved people to commit extreme acts of violence. Instead, it pushed the issue of slavery to the forefront of the Civil War.
- Steel Mill Seizure, 1952 – In an effort to settle a labor dispute involving all of the major steel producers, President Harry Truman issued an Executive Order that allowed the government to take control of the steel production facilities. He did so to avoid disruptions for defense contractors and a perceived negative impact on the economy. The Supreme Court overturned it ten days later.
- Integration Measures , 1948 and 1957 – President Truman also signed an order eliminating segregation within the United States Armed Services. A decade later, President Dwight Eisenhower issued an Executive Order that dispatched federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the law established by the 1954 Supreme Court (Brown v. Board of Education).
Obama’s Gun Control Proposal
In his address (the video of which is embedded above) President Obama said that his decision to invoke his latest Executive Order stems from his frustration with Congress’ inability to pass improved gun laws in 2012, shortly after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Obama plans to meet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss and determine the details. The conversation will likely focus on background checks: closing loopholes that allow some dealers the ability to sell guns online and at gun shows, and improving the quality of background checks to include disqualifications based on histories of mental illness and domestic violence.
Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives accused the president of being dismissive toward Americans who value their right to own guns. Other critics of the executive action say that the effort is mostly cosmetic and will not affect any real changes in how people purchase guns.
The White House has put up a Web page that is keeping track of the progress and coverage of the gun control efforts centering from these executive actions. You can keep up with the changes here.
Dig Deeper Continue to follow this story, noting any new developments, including the reaction of Republican members of Congress. How successful do you think this Executive Order will be in the long run? Support your answer.