What everybody needs to know about our Constitution and gun control

Quick draw Republicans in Congress, intent on stopping any gun-control proposal from the Obama White House, are way off target when they accuse the president of violating gun ownership rights under the Constitution.

Gun control is completely consistent with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. And President Obama is on target with the great American tradition of proposing gun control laws for Congressional approval as well as by issuing executive orders on gun control.

The only opinion that matters here is the Supreme Court’s opinion. And the high court has ruled, several times, that the president, the Congress, state and local government all have the power to regulate guns. The Court reaffirmed this interpretation as recently as 2008 in the landmark case, District of Columbia vs. Heller.


Even conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged this in his opinion to Heller. He wrote that the Second Amendment is “not unlimited” and is  “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

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Does that make Justice Scalia a crazed, liberal “gun grabber?” Should we file articles of impeachment against him?

That seems to be the thinking of Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas). He wants to impeach President Obama for considering executive action to control the sale of some guns and ammunition. Rep. Stockman also wants to strip the White House budget for its efforts to bring sanity to the craziness of a country suffering from repeated mass murders by gunfire.

"I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment," Stockman said. "If the president is allowed to suspend constitutional rights on his own personal whims, our free republic has effectively ceased to exist.”

Sorry, Congressman but in gun lingo you have just shot off your rhetorical buckshot before having a clear view of the target, in this case, the facts.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution clearly grants Obama and any other president the authority and the discretion to issue executive orders with the force of law over the sale of guns and ammunition.

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an executive order in conjunction with his signing of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which regulated the type and amount of guns to be legally imported into the United States.

President George H.W. Bush used his executive authority under the 1968 law to permanently ban the import of 43 specific firearms including modified versions of the AK-47 and the Uzi.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order banning over 50 types of assault weapons.

To be crystal clear: President Obama has the legal authority to enact gun safety measures through executive order. That is not a matter of opinion. It is a statement of fact. And there is historical precedent. Presidents have historically used this tool to implement a wide range of public policies that they believe to be in the best interest of the nation. The Emancipation Proclamation, for instance, was President Abraham Lincoln’s exercise of his executive order power to free slaves.

Nothing in President Obama’s rhetoric or his record supports the right wing’s claim that he wants to confiscate the guns of law abiding Americans.  This is a paranoid delusion manufactured out of whole cloth by the National Rifle Association and the even more extreme group, Gun Owners of America. Unfortunately, this toxic nonsense has now seeped into the mainstream of conservative thought.

Even the most aggressive anti-gun measure being discussed, the assault weapons ban proposed by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), clearly states that current lawful gun owners would be allowed to keep their guns.  These weapons would be “grandfathered” in under the Feinstein proposal.

The rest of the gun control measures reportedly under consideration by the White House are fairly modest and supported by the vast majority of the American people.

A USA Today/Gallup poll taken last month found that 92 percent of Americans favor a background check for every gun purchase in the United States and only 7 percent opposed it. According to the same poll, 62 percent say the approved of a ban on the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets while 35 percent disapprove.

A Pew poll from earlier this week found similar results.

According to Pew, 85% of Americans, a roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, favor universal background checks on gun buyers including at gun shows. The survey also found that preventing people with mental illness from buying guns is backed by 80% of Americans, including 86% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats.

In opposing these common-sense gun safety measures under consideration by President Obama, the NRA is not only at odds with the general public, it is also at odds with its own membership.

After the shooting in Aurora, Colorado this summer, Republican pollster Frank Luntz conducted a nationwide survey of gun owners who are members of the NRA. Luntz found that 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support background checks on every gun sale. The poll also found that 79 percent of NRA members and 80 percent of non-NRA gun owners support requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees.

To recap: the president is reportedly considering universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning high-capacity magazines, banning some military-type assault weapons and restricting the sale of guns to the mentally ill.

In spite of an avalanche of facts, some gun extremists still insist the Constitution does not allow the president to propose or enact – through executive action – gun control laws.

The straight shot here is that the same Constitution that guarantees the right to own a gun also guarantees the right for all Americans to take steps to be safe in the streets and even in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.