Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told viewers of an MSNBC “townhall” that her efforts to enact gun control would start her “very first day” as president. This week, a Washington Post article titled, “Can Clinton make good on immigration, guns?,” shed some light on her anti-gun plans. Rather than rely on the quaint notion that the legislative branch should be relied on to legislate, Clinton appears intent on bypassing Congress and pursuing her gun control agenda by executive fiat.
In describing her strategy, the article notes, “Clinton and her allies in and out of Congress are gradually building a legislative agenda that would focus on immigration issues in Congress while mostly relying on the executive power of the presidency to further gun restrictions that would have little chance of becoming law.”
Later on, the piece elaborates on one of Clinton’s contemplated executive measures, stating, “Clinton would go further than Obama to broaden requirements for background checks and narrow loopholes that allow largely unrestricted trafficking of guns online.” This is followed by a quote from Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon, who told the Post, “Building on the steps pursued by President Obama, Secretary Clinton will take administrative action to require that any person attempting to sell a significant number of guns be deemed ‘in the business’ of selling firearms.”
The contours of Clinton’s plan to restrict the private transfer of firearms are unclear, however, even more hazy is just where Clinton thinks she would obtain the authority for such an action.
In January, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions on gun control. The centerpiece of the highly publicized effort was the issuance of ATF guidance clarifying when an individual must obtain a Federal Firearms License, and thus transfer firearms pursuant to a background check. At the time, the Obama administration made perfectly clear that they were doing everything within their lawful authority to pursue gun control administratively.
Just prior to the announcement of the new measures, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said of Obama’s gun control efforts, “he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively… The President has made clear he’s not satisfied with where we are, and expects that work to be completed soon.” In remarks announcing the new actions, Obama stated “we’re going to do everything we can to ensure the smart and effective enforcement of gun safety laws that are already on the books…” Further, a press release that accompanied the announcement of these measures, stated, “The President and Vice President are committed to using every tool at the Administration’s disposal to reduce gun violence.”
All of this came after Obama’s earlier high-profile administrative gun control efforts, which were announced in January 2013. Following the shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama convened a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden to offer gun control recommendations, including measures they thought would be within the president’s authority to pursue unilaterally. After an extensive effort, the administration adopted 23 executive actions. Obama said of the task force’s proposals, “I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.”
Whether certain aspects of the Obama administration’s executive gun control measures fall within their legitimate authority is a contested matter. However, from their statements it is abundantly clear that Obama’s team has sought to reach the outer limits of their authority to regulate firearms under current federal law. The fact that Clinton believes she could do even more suggests that her and her team either do not understand federal firearms law, or that they are willing to go beyond what even the anti-gun Obama administration considers a legitimate use of executive authority.
This sort of brazen perversion of federal firearms law is nothing new for the Clintons. In 1998, President Bill Clinton used the Gun Control Act’s oft-abused “sporting purpose” test to prohibit the importation of 58 types of rifles. Prior to the ban, then-White House policy analyst Jose Cerda said “We are taking the law and bending it as far as we can to capture a whole new class of guns.”
This is all to show that getting involved in this year’s elections is now more important than ever. To find out more about the variety of ways you can help ensure a victory for our Second Amendment rights this election season, please visit https://www.nraila.org/about/election-center/.