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Executive Overreach: the New Normal in Anti-Gun Politics

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A jarring paradox exists in our nation’s politics. While the American people and Congress are showing steadfast commitment to the Second Amendment, President Barack Obama is determined to shove gun control down America’s throat by any means necessary.

Obama has fully abandoned the pretense that he cares about unifying the nation around shared values and goals. Instead, he is pursuing a nakedly ideological agenda. He claims to be acting in the interest of public safety, but by the most reliable measures we have, the American public is already as safe from violent crime as it’s ever been. 

Obama has nevertheless ordered his legion of government attorneys to “scrub the law” and find opportunities for him to crack down on gun ownership. He can’t pretend his policies are prudent, thoughtful responses to pressing issues when he can’t even articulate what they are before the fact, when they arise only from his orders to subordinates to find him whatever levers he can pull. 

As I described earlier in this issue, polls from late 2015 showed soaring support for Second Amendment freedom. In October, a clear majority (56 percent) told Gallup that they believe America would be safer if more Americans lawfully carried concealed weapons. The NRA’s favorability rating climbed to 58 percent that same month, its highest level in 10 years, according to Gallup. A Rasmussen poll conducted in November and December revealed 61 percent ofAmericans believe the policies NRA supports make America safer. And an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in December showed that 53 percent of Americans oppose banning the sale of “assault weapons,” the highest level of opposition in at least 21 years. 

Americans are also exercising their Second Amendment-protected rights in droves. In the waning months of 2015 the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was running record numbers of firearm-related background checks. While an imprecise measure, this is strongly indicative of Americans’ interest in keeping and bearing arms. 

And yet the president has announced that his number one priority in 2016 will be to enact, by executive fiat, some of the very same gun controls that have been squarely rejected by the peoples’ representatives in the U.S. Congress. 

Back in April 2013, Obama suffered the most resounding political defeat of his tenure when the Senate voted down his post-Newtown gun control agenda. The rejected proposals included bans on popular semi-automatic weapons, arbitrary magazine capacity limits, and bans on various types of casual firearm transfers between neighbors and friends. 

Letting his anger show during a Rose Garden news conference soon after the Senate vote, Obama huffed that it was a “shameful day for Washington” and vowed, “This effort is not over.” 

How did the American people react to gun control’s defeat in 2013? Did they storm the Capitol demanding Congress see the error of its ways? 

Hardly. History records that you instead stormed the polls during the 2014 midterm elections and dealt yet another blow to the anti-gun forces by increasing pro-gun majorities in both houses of Congress. 

It’s a good thing you did. 

Last December, another gun control showdown was waged on Capitol Hill when the Senate took up H.R. 3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act. Anti-gun Democrats were determined to use that bill as a vehicle to advance their agenda. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) offered a far-reaching amendment that would have given the U.S. attorney general what amounted to a discretionary veto on gun sales to anyone “appropriately suspected” of having some connection to “terrorism.” Anti-gun bureaucrats would have been empowered to deny Second Amendment rights based merely on their own “reasonable belief” concerning someone’s present or future intentions, with no

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also dredged up his ill-fated ban on private firearm transfers between friends and many family members. This was the same measure the Senate defeated in 2013 and remains the ultimate rallying cry for gun control forces. 

In the days leading to the vote, gun prohibitionists had whipped themselves up in a veritable frenzy. Yet neither measure obtained even a bare majority, much less the 60 votes needed to advance to debate. The gun banners’ ace in the hole had failed them for the second time on Capitol Hill. 

The defeat enraged gun control proponents. But they refused to admit defeat.

Michael Bloomberg continues to use his enormous wealth to pour money into gun control causes and anti-gun politicians. His collaborators in the media, academia and entertainment industry have stood with him in lock-step, hoping to scold, shame and bamboozle Americans into giving up their rights. No tragedy is beyond exploitation. No bending (or breaking) of fact is off limits. No propaganda techniques are beneath them. 

And no law, constitution or political obstacle will stand in their way.

In early January, Obama pulled out his dictatorial pen and issued a series of executive actions that have no real chance of diminishing violent crime or reducing mass shootings. The centerpiece of these actions was the issuance of “guidance” to gun owners on whether they have to be licensed to transfer firearms. While ballyhooed as a move to “close the private sale loophole,” the real purpose of this action is to intimidate the law-abiding and chill perfectly lawful private transfers of firearms. Whether ATF takes the Obama directive to extremes by bringing back the abuses of decades past is yet to be seen, but NRA stands ready to challenge them if they do. 

The White House has also acknowledged that it “is actively engaged with leaders” at the state and local level on what they euphemistically claim are “steps they can take to protect their communities from gun violence.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy made headlines in December when he basically assumed ultimate authority over who gets to buy a firearm in Connecticut. Specifically, Malloy said he intended to issue an executive order banning individuals on federal government watch lists from obtaining or possessing firearms in the state. He even indicated that he would be open to seizing firearms from those who had lawfully obtained them with retroactive enforcement of his new order. 

Notably absent during all Malloy’s grandstanding was a serious discussion of the legal authority under which he proposes to act. The Connecticut legislature has already determined with great specificity who is disqualified from acquiring or possessing firearms. How Malloy thinks he can add to that list unilaterally is unclear. It’s a bold proposition, to say the least, for a governor to claim that he can infringe fundamental rights on nothing more than his say-so. 

The NRA has written extensively on the liabilities of using secret government lists as a basis of denying people their rights. We’ve also explained how federal authorities use watch lists as a means of keeping tabs on suspicious persons who they might not yet have sufficient evidence to arrest or whose activities they prefer to monitor, rather than curtail with legal action. Having state governors interfere with this system by measures that alert the watch-listed individuals of their monitored status could undermine whatever intelligence and national security value the federal system would otherwise have. Make no mistake, no one wants terrorists or their collaborators to have firearms. The best way to prevent that is to prosecute them and take them off the streets.

But this executive overreach doesn’t end at the Connecticut state line. Obama has more gun control fellow travelers in the likes of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring. Herring gave gun owners a lump of coal three days before Christmas by unilaterally canceling Virginia’s recognition of concealed-carry permits from 25 states. Besides limiting the carrying of guns in the commonwealth by out-of-state residents, the move also threatens to limit Virginia residents’ ability to carry in other states under reciprocity agreements. For his part, McAuliffe banned all otherwise-lawful carrying of guns in state buildings under executive control. 

What is particularly telling about Herring’s action is how it takes aim squarely at law-abiding citizens both within Virginia and throughout the country. In fact, Herring and his allies didn’t even try to claim (nor could they) that concealed-carry permit holders have been wreaking violent havoc in Virginia. McAuliffe similarly couldn’t point to a legitimate public safety concern in state buildings. 

Make no mistake, this is the new normal in American politics: a handful of ideologically driven zealots who are determined to abuse their own executive authority until someone finally forces them to acknowledge that all authority has limits. The surest way to do that, of course, is at the ballot box. We can’t trust anti-gun politicians to respect the Constitution or separation of powers, and when it comes to the Second Amendment, we can’t trust that judges will be available or willing to reign in such abuse when it occurs. 

Our best hope, then, is to ensure they never get the chance by keeping them out of office in the first place. We need no more evidence of their intentions or their methods. We only need the will to stop them.

Chris W. Cox

BY Chris W. Cox

NRA-ILA Executive Director

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Chris W. Cox has served as the executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action, the political and lobbying arm of NRA, since 2002. As NRA’s principal political strategist, Cox oversees eight NRA-ILA divisions: Federal Affairs; State & Local Affairs; Public Affairs; Grassroots; Finance; Research & Information; Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources; and Office of Legislative Counsel. Cox also serves as chairman of NRA’s Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), the Association’s political action committee; president of the NRA Freedom Action Foundation (NRA-FAF), which focuses on non-partisan voter registration and citizen education; and chairman of NRA Country, an effort to bring country music artists together with NRA members in support of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.