Observations On Obama’s Executive Orders On Guns And The Golden Dancer Presidency

Rocking Horse

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.

Golden Dancer.

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.


Sources: Forbes, Reason, Washington Post, AP, Popehat

51 thoughts on “Observations On Obama’s Executive Orders On Guns And The Golden Dancer Presidency

  1. Maybe president Obama is an avid reader of ethics alarms (not an avid learner though) and realizes we haven’t had a knock down drag out for a month or two and he only did this so you’d post and we’d have a foofaraw.

  2. I was going to call him the David Dinkins of the presidency (political hack elected for his color who failed miserably) and I thought you had it with the Pumpsie Green analogy, but this one tops the zinger titles.

  3. My Twitter tweet doesn’t imply endorsement of your post, Jack. I simply thought it worth reading. I’m still on the fence.

  4. What is happening, is this: an unseen hand acts to guide the words and actions of all politicians.

    Speeches are made, and laws are passed and executive actions are made, supporting and codifying various gun control measures that “the hand” knows will not be effective at reducing gun crimes, even if that ineffectiveness is through intentional non-enforecement.

    Then we hear new speeches and see the passage of new laws and the writing of new executive orders; again, it is known in advance that they will not be effective at reducing gun crimes.

    The cycle will repeat until “the hand” can pass a set of gun control laws that will eliminate private gun ownership. This is when actual enforcement will be sought. This is when America ends.

  5. ” Issue Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.”


    Maybe in the memorandum his Obamaness can require federal law enforcement to trace guns provided to Mexican criminal gangs by federal law enforcement that are used to murder Border Patrol guys. Oh, that’s right, Eric Holder, you’re retired now. Or “working” for a D.C. megafirm (Jack’s term). Sorry to disturb you, Eric. Better get back to fluffing up your time sheet, huh? How much can you bill for that lunch?

  6. Is anybody under the impression that the left will be at all satisfied with this, or will ever be until the 2nd amendment is not only abolished, but troops and law enforcement agencies are mobilized to attempt to collect every last firearm? That is their goal, despite any protests to the contrary. They will chip away, until “…shall not be infringed” is “…is null and void”. Fight them, do not trust them, do not yield, do not obey.

      • See, that’s where it gets REALLY complicated. Finding the will to coordinate and execute something of that magnitude might not be very likely, not to mention finding enough LE/citizens willing to do it (fear and patriotism). Plenty of people who talk a big game would just roll over and keep “licking the hand that feeds them”, some would fight and get posthumously named domestic terrorists, and many would just get clever. My guess is that the bastards will just keep chipping away, and wait for the brainwashing of future generations to do the rest. Any holdouts will hide what they have. I hate to say it, but I think we’ll go out with a whimper. “And how we burned in the camps later….”

      • Indeed, Joe, Jack is correct. Look at me. Fired from substitute teaching high school, then a surprise visit at one in the morning by Homeland Security.

      • Good God, you’re probably right! You’d think that they’d have people sifting through stuff like this, determining with reasonable accuracy what’s hyperbole, and what’s serious. I can only hope that they wouldn’t waste resources and time on what’s obviously just hot air. I mean “BOLO for unknown subject approaching the package at high speed with a blowtorch”. Please feel free to delete.

  7. President Obama has a very good reason for wanting to talk about gun violence in America. That reason is simple: He can’t talk very convincingly about U.S. economic “recovery” after 7 years of his leadership; he can’t talk about the success of the ACA; he can’t talk about the entirety of the Middle East and North Africa being on fire under his watch; he can’t talk much about any specific plans for Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt; he can’t talk about the “success” of the U.S. / Iranian nuclear agreement; he can’t talk about the unfortunate decline of the U.S./Israeli relationship; he can’t talk about the “reset” of the U.S. relationship with the Russian Federation; he can’t talk about the Crimea or the Ukraine; he can’t talk about limiting North Korean nuclear weapons; he can’t talk about crime and civil unrest in places like Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson; he can’t talk about San Bernardino; he can’t talk about his plans to defeat ISIS and terrorism in general; and finally people are getting a little burnt out in listening to him talk unconvincingly about climate change and his Paris deal to address the problem. So, it makes perfect sense why he wants to talk about “gun violence.” It is about the only thing left to talk about!

    Am I being too cynical?

      • When did a president’s “legacy” become a concern? I thought they were supposed to worry about governing the country as best they could as long as they were in office and then let history take care of the rest.

        • Clinton was very displeased when a scholar ranked him in an “unrated” category together with folks like Benjamin Harrison who had uneventful administrations. He wanted to be remembered as the president who brought America into post-Cold-War peace and prosperity, lifted burdens, and removed barriers. Unfortunately, though he could talk for hours about income redistribution, foreign policy made him just harrumph.

          Obama wanted to be a messiah, but unfortunately couldn’t produce any miracles. Hopefully there will be an objective analysis of his administration one day, but I think racial politics makes a truly objective one impossible.

        • The first time I was aware of a President guiding his final years according to burnishing his “legacy” was with Clinton, which made some sense, since his legacy risked being perjury, Oval Office hummers and impeachment. (It still is.) Bush 2 and Obama have continued this ugly tradition…just one more way Bill degraded his high office.

          • To me, the maddening thing is the way media and even scholars think this sort of presidential navel gazing behavior is perfectly legitimate.

            • And thanks for the answer, Jack. I didn’t know the phenomenon was that recent, but I guess I’m showing my age. I guess ’92 to 2000 was sixteen to twenty-four years ago. Longer than many voters have been alive. Sigh.

  8. Here is the singular point that I choose to address, at least for now.

    Jack said, “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.”

    I have talked about this trampling on the Separation of Powers, abusing the power of the Presidency, and setting a dangerous precedent issue until I’m blue in the face with people on other websites and in person; people just don’t get it, they’re stupid! Stupid people are like glow sticks, I wanna snap them and shake the shit out of them until the light comes on.

    This routine of abusing the power of the Presidency is the primary reason I don’t want Trump as the President of the United States. What do you think that unethical self-serving narcissist will do with such wielding of power? Does anyone really think Trump would stop Obama’s practice of abusing the power of the Presidency or do you think he would put the practice on steroids just like he’s done with everything else he says and does? I believe it would be very dangerous for the United States of America to have Trump as our President. Having him as the GOP nominee will likely “destroy” the Republican Party for the foreseeable future but having him as President could be much, MUCH worse!

  9. I would like to offer an observation concerning one of President Obama’s executive order policies: To direct federal agencies to promote “smart gun” technology through the procurement power of the Federal government. The President compares guns to smart phones and asks why we can’t use the same modern technology to limit access and use of guns like we do with smart phones. (Vice President Biden’s post-Sandy Hook commission came up with a similar recommendation.)

    This may sound like a good idea to some, mostly people who have no knowledge of guns and do not depend on guns for their own personal safety, national defense or homeland security.

    Since the inception of firearm technology… probably around the end of the 1300’s… gun makers have been striving to achieve simple ends in the gun making trade: To make small arms effective and reliable. To those ends, they have long ago succeeded. For example, the Model of 1911 Colt semi-automatic pistol, which is to this day to many, the “Gold Standard” for effectiveness and reliability in a handgun. Even earlier the Model of 1898 Mauser bolt action rifle was perfected and is still today considered a high standard of effectiveness and reliability. Yes, we are still seeing refinements and advancements on small arms technology, but the basics of effectiveness and reliability were achieved over a hundred years ago.

    Now, we have a president who seems to be wanting to use United States military and law enforcement personnel as “crash test dummies” for the new “smart gun” technology… basically taking us back to less effectiveness and less reliability.

    Obviously, smart phone technology can be applied to guns. But, how often to smart phones fail to function due to a dead battery or some other technical glitch? What happens when the “smart gun” is dropped in the mud or the water? What happens when the gun is dropped on the pavement and delicate circuitry is disrupted? Will the dangerous enemy or homicidal criminal stop and give the soldier or law enforcement officer a chance to replace the battery or to by-pass damaged circuitry? Maybe these technical “bugs” can be eventually engineered out of the smart guns. But at what cost in money and in lives?

    No… this is not a good idea. But it is exactly the kind of idea that comes from the minds of people who do not have to put their lives on the line to face real threats. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that the French didn’t even bother putting mechanical safety devices on their military rifles until after World War 2, believing that their military personnel should be properly trained to safely handle a deadly weapon and be able to kill when necessary.)

  10. #17 on is at least the beginning of a Trojan horse, essentially getting a collusion between doctors and the government for loosely determining who is “mentally ill”, and will almost certainly result in both lots of people losing their rights who shouldn’t (like people with episodic mood disorders, or even those who have them but have been stable for long periods), and people withholding information from their doctors out of fear of this happening. In the not too distant future, the range of people seemed “mentally ill” will broaden even further, such as people with PTSD who are non-violent, adult onset ADHD, etc, etc, etc.

      • Maybe it’s 16 that concerns me. I realize that a lot of this is just static, but emboldening doctors to ask this question bothers me. It’s a sneaky way of identifying gun owners on what will amount to a massive database, often when when they might be in a vulnerable state; your trusted family physician laying the framework for a registry of sorts. Sneaky and underhanded. I was asked “do you own any guns” a few years ago by a VA doctor, in the middle of asking typical questions like “any history of hypertension?” I answered No, followed by “not that that’s any of your Goddamn business, doc”. That REALLY pissed me off.

        • But really, what is it but confirming what is already true? Doctors can ask me if I screw chipmunks, and can answer, “One ore question like that and I find a new doctor, capiche? The same with gun questions.

  11. Jack,
    Sometimes I’m confused by why you use obscure references from out-dated sources to coin new phrases and political metaphors. Would “Potempkin Presidency” not have worked just as well (I realize it’s doesn’t encapsulate all of the subtleties of yours, but it’s instantly recognizable, easily understood, and carries much the same connotation — not to mention alliterative)? Especially since it would have saved you the trouble of the “Inherit the Wind” digression and the writing more succinct.

    When taken together with your list or rationalizations and debate fallacies (most of which already have other names as well) I feel as though you’re on the verge of creating a whole new ethics Newspeak. On the plus side, at least it will keep those ignorant prols at bay ..,


    • See, I call this gratuitous and ill-informed bitching, Neil. First of all, “Inherit the Wind” is hardly obscure; it is one of the most performed plays among amateur groups every year, and a bona fide classic. Is the Scopes Trial, which is what the play was about, “outdated”? I beg to disagree…emphatically.

      And excuse me if I don’t appreciate critiques of my writing from someone who endorses the use of cliches rather than fresh and revealing metaphors. I explained exactly why “Golden Dancer” is appropriate; I quoted the speech, which has its own intrinsic value, and I made the condiered decision that the metaphor is both more revealing and more appealing than another use of the “Potemkin Villages,” which is not an American reference, and which less than half the people who know what the term means know the history behind it…and it’s an obscure history at that. The Scopes Trial is not.

      Moreover, the President’s deeply cynical and overhyped executive orders do not, as I see them, resemble false village anyway, but a showy attempt to portray a product as far more appealing and better than it is—like a brightly painted rocking horse that breaks down the first time its used.

      I also co-authored a book about Clarence Darrow, whose career and crusades is a sub-plot on Ethics Alarms, as you may not have noticed. Grigory Potemkin’s efforts to fool Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787? Not so much. In fact, “Potemkin villages” is both a cliche and obscure. “Golden Dancer,” especially in this case, is much, much better. And if it sends the culturally and historically illiterate to the Lee and Lawrence play or the movie? Good.

      Am I creating an Ethics Alarms lexicon? Damn right.

      • Hmmm, I must admit, as something of an obscure history buff myself, I didn’t get the Potemkin reference. I usually think about the ship, or the film about it, when I hear the words.

        • (Me too.) That’s another reason why it’s a less than useful cliche, and overripe for replacement. For years, I assumed it was something that referred to a scene in the film, which made me feel guilty for never seeing it all the way through, just the iconic steps scene, so I could appreciate the homage in “The Untouchables” and the parody in “The Naked Gun” sequel.

  12. Jack,
    I meant the reference was obscure, not the source. Lots of people know inherit the wind, few, however, could place that quote.

    Bitching? Jack, come on. I honestly couldn’t care less. Every critique, commentary, or aside I make is inevitably answered with lengthy, often negative responses, when most of the time I’m writing over first impressions. What’s more, you always make a point of calling them stupid before then delving into prolonged answers of them. If my comments perturb you to the point that you have to resort to profanity, you shouldn’t respond at all.

    Also, considering failed to respond to every one of my emails, letters (by actual stamped mail), and Facebook messages in recent memory, why do you chose to take umbrage over my comments here? You seem to have this idea of me as some curmudgeonly contrarian who sits at his computer thinking of snide remarks to irritate when, in fact, I’m an under-worked editor who peruses the Internet looking for ways to kill time.

    For the record, I’m legitimately sorry (no sarcasm). I had no idea you took your choice of metaphors so personally (a little sarcasm).


    • Never have received a letter, Neil; I answer letters, and you know I have also responded to most, though not all, e-mails. This is quibbling of the worst sort. The Golden Dancer speech is one of the most famous and most quoted of all the sections of the play: if the play isn’t obscure, then by definition one of its most referenced passages isn’t either. It is an excellent metaphor; you used invalid arguments to claim otherwise. I pointed out why they are invalid. Nor did I call anything “stupid.” But critiquing something unfairly when you couldn’t care less is called “trolling.” If you do care, and it’s trivial, then the complaint is called bitching.

      I used the wrong word. Oops.

  13. 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.


    President Obama can not credibly claim that criminal homicide is at an all-time high. In fact, criminal homicide is at an all-time low since 1993. That is why there is so much focus on mass shootings, to create the impression that there is a crisis. Anti-gunners these days avoid discussion of criminal homicide rates over time.

    It is also true that rape rates are at all-time lows since 1993. And yet, there is another group of people who focus on a subset of rapes to create the impression that there is a crisis.


    Tens of thousands of Whites are raped, robbed and murdered by vicious predatory Negroes in the US every year. Hundreds of thousands of Whites have been murdered by black monkeys in South Africa since the jews and globalists imposed ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ on that land in 1994. Thousands of White females have been attacked by nonwhite, nonhuman ‘asylum seekers’ over the past year in Europe.

    It’s definitely a race war, but only one side is fighting it, the other side is either trying to ignore it or cowering in fear from it.

    White nationalists discuss the rapes of white girls by black males a lot. I have observed this mnyself for over fifteen years.

    Imagine if the President were to focus on these types of rapes to create an impression of a crisis, while refusing to acknowledge that rape rates in America are at an all-time low since 1993. He says that he can not stop all rapes of white girls by black males, but asks if even one rape could be prevented. And then he announces executive actions like nominating a new FBI director, ordering the attorney general to review sex offender registries, maximize efforts to prevent and prosecute rape, expanding the availability of the FBI crime labs to process rape kits, and launch a safety campaign.

    Would civil rights organizations have any reason to be skeptical?

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