Don't Worry, NRA: Obama Can't Do Much on Guns by Himself

Vice President Joe Biden's use of the words "executive action" has the National Rifle Association and the Drudge Report freaking out. But, relax guys: President Obama can't do that much on guns with an executive order. If he wants a big change in gun laws, he still has to go through Congress.

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It a moment of unintentional satire Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden assured the attendees (and reporters) at his gun control meeting that this was not just a photo op even as TV viewers could clearly hear the cameras clicking away. Biden promised that the administration was looking at a broad package of gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown child massacre, "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, we believe, is required." That executive action has the National Rifle Association and especially the Drudge Report freaking out. Relax guys: President Obama can't do that much on guns with an executive order. If he wants a big change in gun laws, he still has to go through Congress.

Perhaps the threat of executive order resonates because Obama has used it to stop deporting young illegal immigrants and to stop fighting for the Defense of Marriage Act in court. But stopping enforcement of a law Congress has passed is very different from starting the enforcement of a law that Congress hasn't passed. Here are some major things Obama would need Congress to get done:

  • Ban assault weapons.
  • Close the loophole that allows 40 percent of guns to be sold without background checks at gun shows. The White House is trying to get Wal-Mart to support the proposal to push it through Congress, The Washington Post reports.
  • Allow the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and later the National Institutes of Health to even research guns. The Tiahrt amendments block funding for collecting gun crime data and researching the weapons' impact on society, something Mayors Against Illegal Guns will be fighting to change, Politico reports.
  • Get pro-gun control judges confirmed to the federal bench.The National Rifle Association has a program to block Obama's "judicial nominees whom it sees as likely to enforce gun-control laws," the Associated Press reports. Anti-gun control senators have successfully kept some seats unfilled.

The things Obama can get done through executive order are much smaller. They include "changes to federal mental-health programs and modernization of gun-tracking efforts by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives," the Post says. Other Congress-less reforms floated include tracking gun buyers' history of mental illness, sharing more information between state and local law enforcement, keeping information on gun sales longer, and banning the importation of military-style weapons. Which one of these would have applied to Adam Lanza? None. His mom legally bought and registered the weapons he used to kill 26 children and adults, including her.

The extent to which the NRA has won its cultural battle can be seen in Tuesday's New York Times story about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposing more assault rifle restrictions, which he will reportedly propose in a speech this afternoon. The Times says:

Mr. Cuomo, a shotgun owner, has long spoken in favor of tougher gun control but has not used his considerable political muscle to make the issue a priority over his two years as governor.

The Times doesn't even say "Cuomo, who pointed out he's a shotgun owner…" It flatly states his gun ownership, as if this somehow gives Cuomo more moral authority or expertise. That's crazy. You don't need to own a gun to have an opinion about gun control. I don't own a car, but I don't want civilians to be able to drive an M1 Abrams tank down the highway. Taking a tank from a war context to a civilian highway system context is self-evidently a bad idea, as you can see in this video of a man stealing one.

But then, maybe that's because the tank industry hasn't built its own powerful National Tank Association.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.