Obama's "executive actions": tyranny or impotence?

Maybe Barack Obama’s attempt to bypass Congress with nearly two dozen “executive actions” is both — a kind of “tyrannical impotence,” or “impotent tyranny,” but I see a lot more impotence than tyranny or even an abuse of power.  Either way, it’s hardly impressive.  My column today at The Fiscal Times points out the anti-climactic essence of Barack Obama’s little list of 23 orders that purport to take action about the kind of gun violence we have seen in mass shootings like Aurora, Tucson, and Newtown.  Some of them actually just show how little attention Obama has paid to his regular job in the first four years:

The first six EOs relate to background checks – even though the Newtown shooter was already blocked from buying his own weapons and stole his mother’s guns instead. The second EO proposes to undo problems that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) created in sharing issues about medical problems with state and federal agencies that has created a barrier to identifying the mentally ill on background checks.

Most of the rest of these executive actions are practically non-sequiturs or examples of Obama administration indifference to gun violence until Newtown. Number 13 pledges to “Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime,” even though prosecutions for gun crime have fallen more than 40 percent during the Obama administration.

The eleventh executive action commits to “nominate an ATF director,” a post that has remained unfilled with a regular appointment since 2006, and for which Obama had not nominated anyone for Senate confirmation. (The White House announced the nomination of current acting ATF Director Todd Jones after Obama’s speech.)

Another executive action listed promises to “provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers,” a proposal that the NRA made a week after the Newtown shooting, and which the Obama administration ridiculed until others pointed out that Bill Clinton had done the same thing in his COPS program. The rest of the pledged actions promise nothing but studies on health and gun safety, which could have been proposed and undertaken at any time, and have little connection to the issue of mass murders and multiple-victim shootings.

Politico noted last night the same kind of “huh?” reaction from gun rights advocates:

Instead of a firestorm, President Barack Obama’s gun policy executive orders little more than a fizzle among gun advocates.

For days leading up to the announcement, conservative websites and media outlets stoked fears of what Obama was planning to do unilaterally. But when he unveiled his proposal Wednesday — even though the list of executive actions had grown from 19 to 23 — he’d stayed so modest that they didn’t do much but shrug.

Instead of a mass gun round-up or even finding ways to extend existing gun restrictions through clever legal maneuvering, Obama didn’t even sign a single paper with the dreaded “executive order” label. The closest he got were three “presidential memoranda.”

But most weren’t even that: the remaining 20 were nothing more than less formal instructions he gave to aides or administration officials.

And don’t forget ordering himself to fill a position he’d left open for four years.  That’s certainly getting tough on, er … something.

Not everyone agrees, though, that the decrees were all non-events.  David Harsanyi writes today that they’re still an abuse of power:

Now, the 23 executive orders Barack Obama signed that are aimed at “reducing gun violence” could be considered, at worst, cynically political or, at best, completely useless. But the way Obama treats the process, children, the debate, the Constitution and the American people is another story. Sen. Rand Paul recently remarked that “someone who wants to bypass the Constitution, bypass Congress — that’s someone who wants to act like a king or a monarch.” That may be a bit hyperbolic, but it is also a bit true.

“There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America,” lectured Obama, “who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting or sport or protection or collection.” (Or — as it must have slipped the president’s mind — the right to put a gun in a case labeled “open in case of tyranny.”) The president went on to profess that he believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. If this were true for Obama, who was once a constitutional law lecturer at the University of Chicago, why would he attempt to restrict a right that is explicitly laid out in the Bill of Rights (even if it were eminently sensible) without putting it through the republican wringer — the deliberation, the checks and balances, all of it?

I agree with David that these are an abuse of the normal process, in spirit and rhetoric.  In practice, though, none of these “actions” are outside of executive authority already, and the questions Obama’s gun-controlling allies should be asking are why so late, and why so useless?

The Wall Street Journal is unimpressed with the legislative effort, too:

The government is empowered to ban “dangerous and unusual weapons,” like machine guns and surface-to-air missiles, but it also needs to explain how any of this will prevent the next Newtown. Are the feds going to round up weapons and melt them down? The 1994 ban applied only to new rifles, and if this one does as well, how will it make a difference?

Mr. Obama also endorsed universal background checks, including for the 40% of gun sales between private parties. Here too there is a practical problem. Often this exemption is called the “gun show loophole” but most of this activity takes place in homes, over the phone, or via online classified ads. Would the feds impose new data collection and regulations on all gun buyers and sellers? Supposedly Washington can’t be trusted to surveil Americans suspected of terrorism, but now it will do so for all gun buyers?

Mr. Obama told Americans to ask “hard questions” about gun violence in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shootings, but on the evidence Wednesday he didn’t spend a lot of time asking any of himself. Above all he seems to relish a political showdown with the National Rifle Association no matter the policy consequences, much as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rushed his own gun ban through Albany this week.

Like the list of “executive actions,” it’s all for show … and all it shows is even more impotence, as it doesn’t have a prayer of advancing even in the Congressional chamber controlled by Obama’s own party.  And that’s good news on the tyranny front, too.