Before I begin, here are the orders, which almost none of the news media are explaining or in most cases, even mentioning. The list is from Forbes:
Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions:
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to developinnovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
1. I want to get this out of the way first, because it annoys me even more than other things connected with the announcement and its coverage. Jeb Bush was ready for the Obama orders with a signed op-ed titled, “Barack Obama’s executive orders trample on the Second Amendment.” Trample? They barely nick it. Maybe the orders infringe on the Amendment’s personal space. Bush wrote (or, more likely, had someone write for him) the essay before Obama’s measures were known. It’s obvious: Bush never mentions any of them. This is exactly the sort of idiocy from gun rights supporters that Obama, Democrats and anti-gun zealots are counting on, so they can say—with justification!—“See? Republicans don’t want to do anything to make us safer! They oppose measures before they even know what they are! How can anyone expect the President to work with these people?”
Jeb is an embarrassment, especially to himself. He should do everyone a favor and get out of the race.
2. Nicely timed to the orders is an excellent article in Reason called “You Know Less Than You Think About Guns: The misleading uses, flagrant abuses, and shoddy statistics of social science about gun violence.” It would be nice, even responsible, if those clapping their hands like trained seals to Obama’s cynical grandstanding here actually read it. A brief highlight:
“There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America,” President Barack Obama proclaimed after the October mass shooting that killed 10 at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. “So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work—or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns—is not borne out by the evidence.”
In this single brief statement, Obama tidily listed the major questions bedeviling social science research about guns—while also embodying the biggest problem with the way we process and apply that research. The president’s ironclad confidence in the conclusiveness of the science, and therefore the desirability of “common-sense gun safety laws,” is echoed widely with every new mass shooting, from academia to the popular press to that guy you knew from high school on Facebook. But the science is a lot less certain than that. What we really know about the costs and benefits of private gun ownership and the efficacy of gun laws is far more fragile than what… the president would have us believe.
More guns do not necessarily mean more homicides. More gun laws do not necessarily mean less gun crime. Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.”
Read it. If you do, you’ll know more than the President about guns, or, perhaps, more than the President is willing to admit to the public.
3. What does it tell us about our nation’s “journalists” that most of the coverage of the President’s announcement concentrates on the fact that he wiped a tear from his eye as he reflected on the Newtown shooting, which, all agree, could not have been prevented by the measures he announced? Sure, I think he was sincere: so what? That’s delivery, not substance—and I’m sorry to appear less than moved, but the same journalists who mocked former Speaker John Boehner’s tendency to get verklempt are singing Obama’s praises for doing exactly the same thing.
To answer my own question, this absurd focus on theatrics tells us that the supposed serious media has the news values of People Magazine, that the American public is being encouraged to assess the public policy issues like infants, and that, perhaps, the concentration on tears shows that even the Obama/’anti-gun cheering section in the news media thought that the pay-off didn’t justify the build-up.
4. In the third act of “Inherit the Wind,” there is a famous speech made by Henry Drummond, the crusading, First Amendment loving lawyer modeled after Clarence Darrow:
“That was the name of my first long shot. Golden Dancer. I was seven years old, and a very fine judge of rocking horses. Golden Dancer had a bright red mane, blue eyes, and she was gold all over, with purple spots. When the sun hit her stirrups, she was a dazzling sight to see. But she was a week’s wages for my father. So Golden Dancer and I always had a plate glass window between us. But—let’s see, it wasn’t Christmas; must’ve been my birthday—I woke up in the morning and there was Golden Dancer at the foot of my bed! Ma had skimped on the groceries, and my father’d worked nights for a month. I jumped into the saddle and started to rock— And it broke! It split in two! The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance”
I think of Barack Obama’s years as The Golden Dancer Presidency. Not only does it endlessly promise what it doesn’t deliver, but what it presents as fulfilling those promises are put together with spit and sealing wax, all shine, and no substance. These executive orders epitomize the The Golden Dancer Presidency. Obama both previewed them and announced them with repeated references to mass shootings that the measures themselves couldn’t possibly prevent, and to closing loopholes that weren’t germane to his alleged purpose. Both the AP, hardly a routine foe of the President, and the Washington Post quickly pointed this out.
What do you call it when a President dramatically announces that he is taking action to save lives, while referencing various gun-related tragedies and breaking down in tears over a school shooting that is irrelevant to his actions? I call it deception, and cynical grandstanding. It “sends a message” that he cares, just as killing the Keystone pipeline did nothing to slow down global warming but was symbolic and soothing to radical environmentalists. It looks good, to those who are impressed with red manes and purple spots.
5. The major ethical offense is not the orders themselves, but how the President previewed them, announced them and justified them. As with his unconstitutional immigration orders and unilateral amendments to the Affordable Care Act, Obama is trampling on the Separation of Powers, abusing the power of the Presidency, and setting a dangerous precedent by behaving as if Congress must pass measures the President asks for, or he can just manufacture laws on his own. This is a far more important issue than gun control, and is the central failure of Obama’s Presidency and leadership “style.” The proper, legal, responsible, democratic response if Congress won’t pass a law is negotiation and compromise, not unilateral, dictatorial action. In this particular case, I don’t immediately see any measures among the orders that exceed the executive order power, though I’ll wait to see what Professors Turley and Volokh decide. The problem, and it borders on sinister, is that Obama has represented these marginal actions as more than they are, and more than they are would be unconstitutional as well as a dangerous precedent. The President is building support for an imperial Presidency with this rocking horse.
6. In the January 1 radio address presaging his announcement yesterday, Obama once again used the irresponsible “just one life” argument, saying, “We know that we can’t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one?” This is such intellectually dishonest, cynical pandering to emotion, ignorance, hysteria and the “Think about the children!” crowd that it qualifies as insulting and shameless. But Obama is insulting and shameless.
7. Ken White of Popehat issued a dissection of the seductive, flawed and troubling words of the President yesterday as they relate to Obama’s disturbing attitude and those of his supporters toward Constitutional rights generally. As usual for Ken, it is terrific, and is something that everyone should read.