Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Universal Background Checks For Gun Purchases Won't Usher In Dictatorship

By: Dale Bowling

Today President Obama is going to unveil his policy initiatives for curbing gun violence in America. This is the first meaningful attempt to hinder this senseless carnage in almost 20 yrs and it's about damn time.

Recently I came across the meme about how if the President can just outlaw a constitutional right
then we no longer live in a free republic. This caught my attention for obvious reasons.

As I thought about it, there were really two implicit questions there.  Can the President outlaw a
constitutional right and is President Obama doing that?

Not surprisingly, the answers are no and no.

The first: All Presidents have used Executive Orders, but Executive Orders can be reversed by the
Courts if they are determined to be "making law" which is the job of Congress. This is why Presidents are very careful to cite existing law when using Executive Orders since the job of Presidents is to execute existing law. E.O. can also be defunded by Congress so as to not be implemented theoretically, but this almost never happens. E.O.s are routine and usually uncontroversial. George W. Bush used them 300 times despite having a pliable Republican Congress for 3/4 of his two terms.

As to the second question, Executive Orders on firearm purchases would largely involve better coordination and information sharing between law enforcement agencies that already exist as well as universal background checks. Neither of these are controversial from a constitutional standpoint.

Since background checks have been on the books for years without constitutional challenge, would an E.O. ordering universal background checks violate the Constitution? Nope. And actually the legal
reasoning behind dropping the gun show loophole is very compelling. If background checks are on the books to prevent "bad guys" from having guns, why is there this loophole that easily circumvents the existing legislation? The President would absolutely be right to argue that the E.O would execute the intent of the existing law, rather than making new law.

Other initiatives, like a new assault rifle ban, would require new legislation and would need to go through Congress. Whether they can get through no one can say for sure. But the adminstration has said rightly that their priority is extending background checks, cracking down on illegal gun trafficking, etc. These are likely to do a lot of good, with very minimal impact on lawful gun owners.

And because they are such common sense measures with little real consequence for firearm
enthusiasts, it's not surprising that most gun owners agree with them. In a Washington Post-ABC poll, 86% of gun owners favored universal background checks. 76% of gun owners favored background checks for ammunition sales.

The point of all of this is that while we can never completely end gun violence, we can reduce it
through common sense measures that have very little impact on lawful gun ownership. And this is
totally worth doing.

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