President Obama’s executive actions on guns aren’t just an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch, but are really a tremendous missed opportunity. No, it’s even sadder than that, as he is using political theatre to pretend to have the high moral ground on guns while the policies he prefers have led to higher homicide rates in places like Chicago.
Let’s blow away this political smokescreen with what’s really happening.
To put what he is doing in context, think of Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie “Lincoln”. President Obama had the cast and crew of the movie to the White House for a screening, so we can assume he has seen it. The movie details a moral crusade with “Lincoln” (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) working tirelessly and against great odds to win the votes for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.
Now realize that President Obama is doing no such thing. Instead of going through the at times messy democratic process of fighting for what he wants and perhaps compromising along the way, President Obama has opted for imperial decrees.
No wonder all of his political adversaries on this issue—and this includes a lot of pro-gun Democrats in Congress—are pushing back loudly and politically before the precise wording of these executive actions has even been presented to we the people. (There is a fact sheet here at White House.gov.)
Now, this would simply be a wrongheaded and illegal approach to passing policy if it weren’t for the seriousness of this constitutional issue. Everyone agrees, after all, that the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) is in need of reform.
In fact, since shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the gun industry (yes, the “gun lobby”), has been lobbying to get states to give the FBI the names of people who are legally barred from buying a gun for mental-health reasons—at the time some states weren’t giving any records.
The NSSF calls its initiative FixNICS (FixNICS.org). The NSSF has had a lot of success. But they’ve had little help from the Obama administration and no credit from them. The Obama administration has instead cast the NSSF and the NRA and other gun-rights groups as an enemy that must be politically defeated. Why can’t the Obama administration work with them on this common ground?
This is likely because President Obama just can’t admit that gun violence isn’t fundamentally a political problem. It’s a criminal problem.
Actually, President Obama’s insistence that this is a partisan political issue is particularly disturbing when you consider that he spent so much of his working life in Chicago, a city with frightening and mostly black-on-black gang violence.
Obama’s inability to correctly define and deal with a dilemma he lived in for years as a community activist and politician is troubling.
To see how unfortunate this really is, realize that Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City—cities that have some of the nation’s most restrictive gun laws—actually ranked last in federal enforcement of gun laws per capita in 2012, according to a report from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering and distribution organization at Syracuse University. Chicago was dead last with prosecutions of gun crimes on the federal level.
In 2015 there were 484 homicides in Chicago and more than 2,900 people were shot.
President Obama knows this. At the White House Tuesday he said, “Every time I think about those kids [in Sandy Hook Elementary] it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”
Why isn’t he mad enough to drop the partisan demagoguery?
Instead, why hasn’t the Obama administration reached out to everyone to bring solutions through Congress? The NRA has backed the NICS system in the past.
This is why Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislation Action, said today that President Obama is showing a “fundamental lack of seriousness” with this issue.
How can a legislator be serious if they write a tax law without talking to tax experts, or a health-care law without talking to doctors and others from the medical profession or a gun law without talking to gun experts?
Like in the movie “Lincoln” he adores, why can’t President Obama work with Congress, and through them with the American people.
Frank Miniter is author of The Future of the Gun" & "The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide". His latest book is, "This Will Make a Man of You: One Man’s Search for Hemingway and Manhood in a Changing World" .