Republicans in Congress Warn Against Executive Action on Gun Control
UPDATED: 9:01 AM EDT
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) �" President Barack
Obama has not proposed any specific executive actions on gun control in
response to the community college shooting that killed nine people
in Oregon last week, but Republican lawmakers have responded harshly to
suggestions from the White House that he may act unilaterally on the
"I do not believe an executive order's going to solve any problems here," said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA).
an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Fleming claimed that
statistics do not support the contention that stricter gun laws would
"The president going beyond his powers to do things
that should go through legislation is a bad idea," he said, "and I
would disagree with that of course...I think the president is
politicizing these horrible deaths."
Obama predicted and
dismissed such criticisms in his statement to the media following
Thursday's shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
also routine is that somebody somewhere will comment and say, Obama
politicized this issue," Obama said. "Well, this is something we should
politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body
Some Republicans have taken the argument against Obama
even further, though, alleging that he is trying to subvert the
"The president came into office hating guns," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) told Sinclair.
president hasn't won one battle on the Second Amendment," Issa said.
"He's been consistently wrong. Perhaps he should go back to law school
and find out what kind of a constitutional lawyer he would be if he
actually had to live with the Constitution."
Rep. Louie Gohmert
(R-TX) said Obama's reported consideration of executive action on gun
control is an example of how he is "a lawless president" and Congress is
failing to rein him in. According to Gohmert, that can have dangerous
"When no part of government is forcing other parts
to follow the law, then you start moving toward anarchy, and you start
moving toward a public that is so upset that they may act out in ways
that we really don't want that are detrimental to our society."
Gohmert also claimed statistics show the murder rate "has just gone through the roof" in cities that have strict gun laws. Some experts have disputed that alleged correlation.
"You have to ask the question, does this president want more murders? Because what he's pushing for causes them," Gohmert said.
According to Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the Second Amendment prohibits the kind of restrictions Obama might be seeking.
president would be grossly overstepping his boundaries to try through
executive order to restrict Americans, law abiding citizens' right to
bear and keep arms."
Johnson said Obama needs to come to Congress
and work with Republicans to find solutions, but "he's reluctant to
talk to Congress on any issues."
Democrats interviewed Wednesday aimed their frustration at their own colleagues in the legislature.
are people in the House of Representatives who are so tired of just
standing and lamenting the deaths," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). "It
is so painful and we do it over and over. The real silence has been in
the United States Congress not acting."
Following a moment of
silence in the House earlier this week, Schakowsky shouted out, "Let's
do something." If Congress does not pass gun control laws, she told
Sinclair she supports Obama taking executive action.
"If we can't
get the support, yes, the president should scour all the rules and look
for ways that he can act on his own. Not the best way, but perhaps the
only way for the foreseeable future."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)
agreed that an executive order may be the only way something gets done,
but he does not believe it will solve the problem.
"I know the
president is frustrated. I am as well, and I think most Americans are.
But I'm not sure that an executive order in this instance is going to
deal with the problem like it should be dealt with," Cleaver told
He pointed out that executive actions have been used
for major policy actions in the past, including the emancipation
proclamation, but he said it would be better if Congress addressed the
issue. He did not seem optimistic that would happen anytime soon,
though, despite last week's shooting.
"Maybe if we start having shootouts in bars and in grocery stores, that will inspire us to do something," he said.
spoke out passionately last week on the failure of Congress to take
action on gun control in the wake of several previous mass shootings,
and he hinted that his staff is looking into executive orders on the
"I've asked my team, as I have in the past, to scrub what
kinds of authorities do we have to enforce the laws that we have in
place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,"
Obama said at a press conference last Friday.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sparked a larger debate over the use of executive action with the proposal for confronting gun violence that she released Monday. Clinton said she would act on her own whenever possible if Congress does not pass gun control legislation.
proposal includes pushing for comprehensive federal background checks,
closing loopholes in the system, repealing legislation that gives the
firearm industry immunity from lawsuits, and improving laws intended to
prevent the mentally ill from purchasing or possessing guns.
specifically mentioned using executive action to tighten loopholes
surrounding gun show and online weapon sales if necessary.
want to push hard to get more sensible restraints," Clinton told NBC. "I
want to work with Congress, but I will look at ways as president."
Clinton also tweeted Monday, "If Congress refuses to act to end this epidemic of gun violence, I'll take administrative action to do so."
Clinton's words led reporters to question White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about whether President Obama would also be willing to use executive actions to enact gun control measures.
president has, frequently, pushed his team to consider a range of
executive actions that could more effectively keep guns out of the hands
of criminals and others who shouldn't have access to them," Earnest
said at Monday's press briefing.
He denied that the
administration is "stumped" on the issue, saying that officials are
reviewing the laws and consulting with legal authorities to determine
what Obama may be able to do without congressional support.
Obama has angered Republicans with executive actions several times before on many issues, including a series of orders he signed regarding gun control after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
have irritated Congress to no end," said Geoffrey Skelley, associate
editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, "so I expect this would sort of add on
Many of Obama's actions following Sandy Hook involved
abstract measures like initiating reviews, developing proposals, and
making commitments. Others entailed more concrete acts, such as
requiring federal agencies to make relevant data available to the
background check system and improving incentives for states to share
information for background checks.
Political observers see little
chance that even moderate gun control legislation can get through
Congress with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate. In many
ways, this makes executive action an appealing option for gun control
"I would say there's a zero percent chance of
anything getting though" this Congress, Skelley said. He noted that
relatively popular bipartisan legislation that would have expanded background checks failed to get through a Democrat-controlled Senate earlier in Obama's presidency.
are drawbacks to this approach, though, particularly with little more
than a year left in Obama's second term. Executive actions can only be
used in narrow ways to change the interpretation of existing laws or to
affect the way federal agencies operate.
As Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration
illustrated, reinterpreting certain laws could enable the president to
expand or reduce their scope. He could not use these actions to launch
new initiatives and bypass Congress completely.
given that a new president will take office in January 2017, any action
Obama takes could immediately be reversed by his successor if they
disagree with him.
While Clinton and other Democratic
presidential candidates have endorsed some gun control efforts, most
leading Republican candidates are against the type of measures Obama may
be considering. Some candidates have also been very vocal in their
criticism of Obama's use of executive actions in general and have
already promised to repeal many of them.
"In January 2017, we
will have a new president and if I am elected president, the very first
thing I intend to do on the first day is rescind every single
unconstitutional or illegal executive action from President Obama," Sen.
Ted Cruz told Breitbart News in April.
response to Thursday's shooting from the Republican candidates has
mostly focused on mental illness rather than guns, and some have said
the reality is that things like this will continue to happen.
"You know, no matter what you do, guns, no guns, it doesn't matter," front-runner Donald Trump said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "You have people that are mentally ill. And they're going to come through the cracks."
Dr. Ben Carson, the candidate currently in second place in the Republican race in most polls, told Sinclair Tuesday
that he is open to considering any ideas that could prevent gun
violence, including expanded background checks, but only if they do not
infringe upon law-abiding citizens' right to bear arms.
"I'm willing to talk about anything as long as we don't compromise the Second Amendment," Carson said.
Addressing supporters on Facebook,
Carson further explained his views on the importance of gun rights: "I
grew up in the slums of Detroit. I saw plenty of gun violence as a
child. Both of my cousins were killed on the streets. As a Doctor, I
spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that
this senseless violence is breathtaking - but I never saw a body with
bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has blamed the
frequency of mass shootings in America on "cultural rot" and the
glorification of senseless violence. Former Arkansas Governor Mike
Huckabee told CNN the problem was "sin and evil," not access to weapons.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been criticized for his comments
in response to the Oregon shooting, in which he argued that expanding
gun control measures in response to the incident would be a mistake.
stuff happens, there's always a crisis and the impulse is always to do
something and it's not always the right thing to do," Bush said at an
During Monday's White House press briefing, Earnest
acknowledged that no laws can prevent all crimes, but he countered that
this is not a reason to refuse to act.
"I'll just stipulate one
last time," he said, "there's no piece of legislation that Congress can
pass that will prevent every single incident of gun violence. But if
there are some common-sense things that Congress can do that would
prevent even a handful of acts of gun violence without undermining the
constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, why wouldn't they do
Gun control advocates see potential for progress via executive actions if the president pursued that route.
Everytown for Gun Safety,
an organization formed after the Sandy Hook shooting, issued a report
this week detailing five specific actions that it believes Obama has the
authority to take right now.
The report recommends that Obama take action to:
- Ensure that dangerous people with guns are not permitted within 1,000 feet of schools
- Clarify the definition of gun sellers engaged in "business" in order to expand background check requirements
- Instruct federal law enforcement to arrest criminals who try to buy illegal guns
- Publish aggregate background check denial data for guns sold by unlicensed sellers
- Clarify that convicted domestic abusers are prohibited from owning guns regardless of their marital status
ideas mirror many of the proposals Clinton announced. Some are small
steps, but as Obama has said, even minor progress on the issue has often
With her campaign frequently mired in controversy over her email practices
during her term as secretary of state, Clinton could benefit
politically from issuing the proposal that brought the executive action
question to the forefront.
Taking a hard stance on guns enables her to create a contrast with her leading rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and it is a rare chance to appear more liberal
than him. Sanders, from the rural and gun-friendly state of Vermont, has a mixed record on gun control
voted against the Brady handgun bill in 1993 and he supported
legislation that protected gun manufacturers from lawsuits. He has
supported Democrats' efforts to enact gun control legislation since the
Sandy Hook shooting, though.
"It's an opportunity for her to make
appeals to progressives who may be uncertain about her candidacy and
may like what Bernie Sanders has to say" on other issues, Skelley said.
Some of the general ideas that Obama and his allies have put forth enjoy broad public support
, but specific policy proposals tend to raise concerns among gun rights groups.
"We can ask a lot of these questions in a vacuum...It's very hard to find compromise with the specifics," Skelley said.
a ticking clock before Obama leaves office, the long-term consequences
and significance of any changes made through executive action are
"Given the division on this issue in the country, it's something of a political statement," Skelley said.
Some in Congress said Wednesday that they would reserve judgment until they see what executive actions Obama may propose.
he could make a difference, I think most people would like to see
that," said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who suggested the public would
support a measure that deals effectively with mental health. He does not
feel it is the government's place to dictate what weapons people can
buy or how many, though.
"The main thing is keeping them out of
the hands of people who potentially could commit crimes...You need
measures that would make a difference, not just something that's a
cosmetic Band-Aid," Mica said.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told
Sinclair he did not know details of what the Obama administration may be
considering, but he feels that preventing mass shootings goes beyond
what can be accomplished with an executive order.
president I believe has the right to exercise executive power where they
can, but I don't think the scope of executive power is going to solve
this problem," Casey said.
Instead, he said Democrats and
Republicans in Congress need to craft a bipartisan strategy that deals
with matters like mental health and background checks that do have
widespread support among lawmakers and the public.
"The problem has to be solved in this building," Casey said, pointing to the Capitol behind him.