- - Thursday, January 7, 2016

After months of planning and anticipation, rumor and rumination, President Obama finally issued his executive orders, together with a few regulatory “adjustments,” that he says will put a damper on the “gun violence” that he — and the rest of us — so abhor.

The president’s orders, which clearly violate the Second Amendment which he seems to abhor more than guns, will almost certainly be contested in the courts, and are likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision. The court has upheld the Second Amendment in recent years, but only by close decisions, and there’s no sure thing in politics.

President Obama, as he often does, seems happiest to look abroad for inspiration in how to interpret and follow the Constitution. Restrictions on private ownership of guns is common in many countries. Great Britain and Australia, for example, have forbidden most private ownership and have tried to confiscate guns already in civilian hands. But since Mr. Obama hasn’t yet figured out a way to do that, he has set out to make life as miserable as he can for everyone who wants to exercise his constitutional right to own a gun, a right fundamental to the republic for as long as there has been an America.

The president who weeps at the thought of guns in the hands of evildoers nevertheless declines to do what he could do to take guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. He missed a great opportunity to order U.S. attorneys to begin aggressively enforcing existing law, some of which now goes all but unenforced. There’s a federal law, for example, against using a gun in the commission of a felony, carrying a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.

A few federal attorneys have enforced that law with remarkable results, but federal prosecutions in this administration have declined by a stunning 40 percent. Robbers, who are usually professionals conversant with the law, know they can use a gun without facing harsh punishment if they’re caught. A felon even caught with a gun can be sent to prison for 10 years.

The advance notice of Mr. Obama’s executive orders suggested he would include more aggressive enforcement of current law, but, curiously, that language didn’t make the cut. Eric Holder, his former attorney general, once chastised the U.S. attorney in Richmond for wasting “prosecutorial resources” on such aggressive prosecutions. Why blame felons with guns for violent tragedy when it’s easier to blame the law-abiding innocent for owning a gun?

Mr. Obama clearly regards the executive orders he issued this week as only a first step in disarming America. He assures everyone that whatever he does will be consistent with the despised Second Amendment because, after all, he was once a professor of constitutional law. The evidence suggests that he was teaching something he didn’t understand or couldn’t abide. Judging from the record, he’s clearly ignorant of the proper role of the legislative or judicial branches, the separation of power and the checks and balances the founders installed to prevent a runaway executive.

The president has been encouraged to make his end run around the Constitution, the courts and Congress by the passivity of Congress, which is addicted to big talk and blowing harmless smoke. Everyone knows that the Republicans, emboldened and empowered by taking over both houses of Congress, could do something because every two years, when election time arrives, they say so, telling us of all the things they will do if they’re only returned to Washington. It’s a dreary and continuing ritual.

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