Monday, January 21, 2013

Legacy weapon: Obama’s executive action items


THE GROUNDWORK’S being laid now for what history will eventually call one of President Obama’s signal second-term achievements, even though whenever a new gun-control bill becomes law, its origins will more properly belong to the first term.

A wave of 23 executive actions from the president, announced on Wednesday, moves the ball on gun-law reform and firearm access as far as possible without congressional action — and certainly farther than it’s ever been moved since the assault weapons ban sunsetted in 2004.

This is utterly unacceptable for most of the mouthpieces and apologists for those in the pro-gun crowd, some of whom went into hair-on-fire mode on Sunday's Beltway-gasbag shows. But the ground’s shifting fast. Support for the White House initiatives on gun laws came from unexpected (and for conservatives, inconvenient) places.

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With his 23 executive actions, the president sent the signal again that he intends to move forward on gun-access and gun-law reform on a broad scale, smartly tackling the issue from several different vantages at once.

He nominated B. Todd Jones to be the new director of the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms division of the Justice Department; he directed the Centers for Disease Control to look into gun-violence prevention methods; he called for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to review of safety standards for gun locks and safes; and he released a Presidential Memorandum requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns from criminal investigations;

The president also released a Justice Department report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns, and ordered that report be available to law enforcement; and he directed Attorney General Eric Holder to move on a report on new gun safety technologies, and challenge gun makers to come up with more of the same.

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IT’S THE comprehensive scope of this effort, combined with the deft use of presidential authority, that has the pro-gun crowd’s knickers in a deep twist. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul thundered on Fox News: “We will nullify anything from this president that smacks of legislation.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called the Obama actions “an executive power grab.”

And talk-radio Doberman, former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast and constitutional scholar Rush Limbaugh weighed in on Tuesday, anticipating Wednesday’s announcement. “[T]he executive order does not contain the power to violate the Constitution,” Limbaugh said on the air.

“The executive order does not give the president the authority to say, ‘I don't like the Second Amendment, and I'm going to write a law that supersedes it.’ No president has ever had that power. No president today has that power. Barack Obama doesn't have it. If he acts in such a way, he is in violation of the Constitution. The Constitution is what holds this country together. The Constitution is what defines this country.”

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Except that’s not what the president has done; none of the 23 executive actions is meant to contravene the Second Amendment, or even get in the way of people exercising it. They’re largely administrative and public-outreach initiatives intended not to curtail anyone’s right to buy a gun, but to make sure that one aspect of gun ownership gets reinforced in our society: Owning a gun is as much a responsibility as a right.

That’s a central issue that percolates right now, as the country still heals from the tragic outbreaks of gun violence in towns and cities whose names are seared in the national consciousness, and the national conscience, for all the wrong reasons.

That’s the exportable dimension of Obama’s executive actions; they translate well to everyday Americans, the public at large that’s indicated a readiness for sanity on guns and access to them. A recent (Jan 11-15) CBS/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans favor universal background checks before a gun is sold. The same poll found that 85 percent of households with NRA members want background checks, too.

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PPRESUMABLY IT’S that poll, and others besides, that’s led to at least theoretical support for Obama’s gun-control actions from some unlikely places.

On Sunday, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a longtime pro-gun advocate with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, went on “Fox News Sunday” and appeared to indicate willingness to at least study the issue of universal background checks.

“I think we ought to talk about that," Blunt said. “... Let’s se what they come up with in terms of specific proposals.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the new darling of conservatives, seemed to be of similar mind. “I think there’s a lot of room for improvement” on background checks, he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But leave it to a Tuesday tweet from Rupert Murdoch, the velociraptor of right-wing media, to frame the issue with a clarity and practicality that likely set conservative coifs ablaze all over Washington last week:

“Constitution right about guns for self defence and hunting. Founders did not mean modern weapons of war.”

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There were surprises on both side of the aisle. In a Thursday statement, Al Franken, the usually candid senator from Minnesota, used quasi-evasive language that made you wonder what he was quasi-evading: “I co-sponsored legislation to large clips like those used in so many mass shootings. I also support the principle that we should reinstate a ban on assault weapons, and I will carefully review any proposal to do that. We need to make sure we don’t have weapons out there that are really designed for the battlefield, and not for hunting.”

The question is, why get behind the “principle” of reinstating the assault weapons ban? Why not just say you support bringing the ban back? For Franken, one of Congress’ more gifted speakers and analytical thinkers, it was a curious bet-hedging, or at least it certainly sounded like it.

Some lawmakers have no use for wiggle room. Democratic Senators Schumer and Gillibrand of New York, Lautenberg of New Jersey and Feinstein of California have taken the lead (taken point?) on gun-law reform and weapons access, with bills covering everything from a revival of the assault weapons ban to a limit on gun magazine size to that anathema of the NRA and its champions: universal background checks.

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IT’S A SIGN of how long gun-law reform has been little more than distant objective or gauzy talking point that the National Rifle Association and the pro-gun lobby can ramp up to its own DEFCON 1 in the media and make millions of people believe in insane Chicken Little warnings, black-helicopter scenarios in which the federal government swoops into Your Town U.S.A. and confiscates citizens’ guns by the hundreds of thousands in door-to-door sweeps ... the better to control Americans ... the better to keep Americans in thrall to ... The Central Government ... bwahahahahahaaaaaaa!

The facts are simpler: For the first time in generations, and maybe ever, the federal government has mounted an attack on the contemporary interpretation of the Second Amendment as a license to stockpile weapons that have more in common with the national defense than the defense of your life and property. At the end of the day, that’s what this is about.

And as President Obama takes the presidential oath of office again (ceremonially this time, today at noon eastern time), these second-term action items will gain more of the momentum that was established during the first. With the wind at his back and popular opinion on this issue solid in his corner, the president’s in a position to snatch a victory from the subalterns of the pro-gun machine, to wrest the national narrative over gun rights from their cold, dead hands.

Image credits: Obama and Biden: WH.gov. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seal: public domain. Limbaugh: © 2013 Premiere Radio Networks. Blunt: Fox News Sunday. Franken: via Talking Points Memo. NRA logo: © 2013 National Rifle Association.

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