Leave it to Barack Obama to come into his inaugural weekend with a bang, and not just on guns. He's made it clear that he intends more spending, more regulation, more radical appointees and less national defense in his second term. The word "overreach" is going to be one of the most overused words in the English language.
Since he just fired a load of executive orders on gun control like shotgun pellets at a duck hunt, it's time to ask a few questions about this part of his agenda. The first one's for President Obama.
Why did you display children prominently at your press conference? Were you implying that anyone who opposes your policies wants to see children shot? I think you were.
Second, did you really justify your assault on the Second Amendment partly by equating safe shopping with the "right of assembly"?
Finally, in citing the "right to life," did you see any irony in being the most pro-abortion president in history? You support even partial-birth abortion, and when you were a state senator, you killed legislation that would have required doctors to treat children who survive abortions.
Now here's a more general question: What exactly are executive orders?
You won't find them in the Constitution. They're derived from Article II, which confers executive power on the president to "take care that all laws be faithfully executed." Executive orders are work orders from the president to employees of federal agencies. They do not apply to state or local governments. They direct the implementation of statutes that Congress enacts and which are signed by the president into law. If they go beyond this, they are unconstitutional.
A look at some of the 23 gun control executive orders that Mr. Obama issued on Jan. 16 leaves one wondering whether the president, as Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry would say, is "a man who knows his limitations." If a Republican president issued 23 executive orders on a single subject, many in the media would pronounce him "obsessed." No such observations were forthcoming here.
One of the orders calls for "incentives for states to share information with the background check system." Funny, Mr. Obama doesn't seem to want to apply this principle to voter registration in order to curtail voter fraud. Incentives can take many forms. Enforcement may well involve either coercion, like withholding federal highway funds, or bribery, like dispensing federal highway funds.
Mr. Obama also wants "federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations." Since most criminal enforcement occurs at the local and state levels, this would seem to give the feds carte blanche to insert themselves into every crime scene that involves a recovered firearm. Maybe they already do that. I hope not.
Another executive order is to "provide law enforcement, first responders and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations." Does this mean that all school and emergency personnel will have to attend federally run programs? Two more executive orders are for the feds to "provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers," and to "develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education." Those poor local school officials, clergy and college deans must never have thought of re-tooling, say, fire drills, for other emergencies, even after Columbine, Virginia Tech and now, Sandy Hook Elementary.
One of the scarier orders directs "the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks." It wasn't long ago that Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security issued a report tagging pro-lifers, war veterans and opponents of illegal immigration as potential terror threats.
Then there's the "doc snitch" order. Federal officials are to clarify that the Obamacare law doesn't prohibit doctors from asking about guns in patients' homes. We have to wonder what the physicians are supposed to do with that information -- it's a short step to requiring them to ask.
We need to keep in mind that gun ownership is not merely a Second Amendment issue. "Guns are property," says constitutional attorney Leah Farish. "Infringement of Second Amendment rights should also be subjected to due process scrutiny under the Fifth and 14th Amendments. I do not think that executive orders amount to sufficient due process in this context."
Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III said last week that impeachment could be a proper remedy if Mr. Obama uses an executive order "to try to override the Second Amendment in any way."
"Now there are some things he can probably do in regard to the actions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or some other governmental agency in its operations," Mr. Meese told Newsmax. "But to impose burdens or regulations that affect society generally, he would have to have congressional authorization."
That's why Mr. Obama is urging Congress to enact a flurry of gun restrictions, from banning so-called "assault weapons," to prohibiting people from buying guns from private sellers without undergoing background checks, outlawing high-capacity magazine clips and a few other things that the anti-gun lobby wants.
Finally, there's this open-ended executive order: "Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime." I'd like to think this would mean that Justice Department officials responsible for loss of life due to the Operation Fast and Furious gun-running program would be prosecuted. Yet the order also gives federal officials in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security a lot of incentive, if not actual legal authority, to intervene whenever and wherever they want.
All of this adds up to a mega-increase in federal law enforcement power and will require billions of dollars and thousands of new bureaucrats. Will it make us any safer? Don't bet on it.
The strategy is not that hard to discern: Shoot the Second Amendment to pieces with high-velocity magazines full of executive orders and questionable legislation. While you're at it, use some kids as political human shields in order to demonize your opponents.
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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