Pros and cons of an executive order by Obama to control gun violence

Pros and cons of an executive order by Obama to control gun violence

Washington : DC : USA | Jan 10, 2013 at 8:09 AM PST
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American opinion of gun ownership is shifting from favoring the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) policies to a wider acceptance for some kind of federal control over military-style weapons and ammunition, which were used in tragic events like Sandy Hook and the Colorado theatre massacre.

After Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011, the Department of Justice developed a list of steps the administration could take to improve the system of background checks before guns could be issued. One of the suggestions was pooling information from other agencies to help identify people who are not mentally competent. Among the considerations is the use of executive order to institute a form of gun control, which could be effective immediately and without congressional approval.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the president’s new Gun Task Force met in December, and Attorney General Eric Holder announced Obama could use an executive order to implement gun control. According to Reuters, Holder announced the administration will consider executive action as part of its new gun policy. He further told reporters that they are working on a range of options that will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, militia and survivalist groups continue to remind the public, however, that the current system prevents convicted criminals from purchasing guns and requires dealers to perform FBI background checks on anyone purchasing a rifle, shotgun or handgun. The problem with this narrow view of gun control is it does not address the ability of civilians to own military-style weapons and ammunition, nor does it curtail the production of these types of weapons for civilian distribution. While the proliferation of handguns in the US is considerable and accounts for the major portion of the 11,000 deaths every year, the assault weapon is the weapon of choice for massacre-type killings.

The FBI estimates there is one weapon for every man, woman and child in the nation. The average gun owner has several guns which could include pistols, shotguns, rifles of all makes and models. One statistic estimates 1 in 4 people own some kind of firearm.

Executive orders

In addressing gun control, congressional legislation is not the only source of regulation having the force of law. The president can issue executive orders pursuant to a grant of discretion from Congress or with the inherent powers of the office of the president, i.e., statutory authority. The president’s Gun Task Force is intimating that executive orders for gun control are a serious consideration.

Reported in Politico on Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden said the president will be able to take executive action to combat gun violence, as the task force kicked off meetings this week. The focus will be on gun safety and include discussions with the NRA.

“We’re here today to deal with the problem that requires immediate action, urgent action,” Biden said at the beginning of a meeting with gun control groups and victims of gun violence. He continued to say, “The president is going to act. There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet, but we’re compiling it all…as well as legislative action.”

Pros of executive orders

The obvious positive of an executive order is the swiftness with which the order can be carried out, for adherence to an executive order is immediate. The federal government and specifically the office of the president must have the ability to communicate with action at all times with the American people in both domestic and foreign policy issues in times of national crisis.

The Heritage Foundation offers a description of executive orders and cautions against undermining the constitutional separation of powers among the branches of government. They report, however, “It would be a mistake to restrict a president’s lawful and proper executive order authority.”

Cons of executive orders

Despite the authority vested in an executive order, a decree can be limited in scope and sustainability. If the president’s authority is derived from a statutory grant, rather than constitutional powers, Congress is free to negate or modify the authority. This is unlikely, however, and has only been done approximately 20 times in the last 100 years. Still, Congress has the power to challenge executive orders on the grounds an order deviates from congressional intent or exceeds presidential constitutional powers, according to Benjamin Neil of Towson University in his essay “Presidential executive orders—laws without legislation.” Neil concludes the use of executive orders exceeds the vision of the founding fathers by usurping congressional legislative powers.


If the president issues an executive order, look for it to be issued under specific statutory authority and have the force and effect of law. The order could impose sanctions, determine legal rights, limit agency discretion and always requires immediate compliance.

While gun safety and discussions with the NRA are tantamount to successful gun control when assessing the gun issue in its totality, the concern with many Americans is how to get military-style weaponry and ammunition off the city streets permanently. Sen. Dianne Feinstein from California has pledged to introduce legislation to stop the sale of these types of weapons to civilians and has been a strong advocate of gun control since the first ban was initiated in 1994. It was allowed to expire in 2004.

The State of the Union Address by Obama is scheduled for the end of January, with unconfirmed reports saying Jan. 29. This address is the time the president outlines his legislative agenda and national priorities. If he chooses to use an executive order for control of gun violence, this is one of the best times to announce it with most of the nation watching maximizing media attention for support of the order. National approval of a presidential decree contributes to its longevity and minimizes congressional challenges.


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President Obama addressed the nation after the Sandy Hook Massacre saying, "our hearts are broken." He is expected to issue an executive order concerning gun violence.
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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  • 	President Obama addressed the nation after the Sandy Hook Massacre saying, "our hearts are broken."  He is expected to issue an executive order concerning gun violence.


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