Limits of Executive Action on Guns

Slate‘s David Weigel, in noting the semi-psychotic frenzy breaking out among Second Amendment absolutists in response to allusions by the vice president and others about actions the administration can take on gun violence that don’t require congressional action, argues such actions wouldn’t go that far:

The big priorities of the gun control movement — background checks, magazine size limits, an assault weapons ban — all require action from Congress. According to Mayors Against Illegal Guns (which has recently overtaken the Brady campaign as the organization most despised by the gun lobby), the executive branch would be limited to a few tweaks of current law. Their current pitch mentions three of them:

– Directing the DOJ to prosecute more “prohibited purchasers” when they attempt to buy guns. In 2009, the FBI referred 71,000 cases of thse buyers, mostly felons. U.S. attorneys prosecuted only 77 cases.

– Appointing a permanent ATF director. The ATF has spooked the right ever since Ruby Ridge (before, too, but that’s when the real agita started), and the Senate hasn’t confirmed a permanent director since 2006.

– Requiring federal agencies to report mental health records. The NICS Improvement Act of 2007, passed after the Virginia Tech shootings, requires this. It hardly ever happens.

There we go: Three things Obama could propose by executive order, none affecting the guns and ammo currently for sale in the United States.

Weigel seems puzzled that the White House would push the ultimate button among gun nuts–the fear of executive action to take away their shooting irons, as reflected in the Drudge Reports use of images of Hitler and Stalin to accompany a headline on the story–with so little ammunition–if you will excuse the expression–on hand to back it up. I can’t answer that, but I do think there is a chance there is a deliberate desire to give the gun-huggers the opportunity to discredit themselves at one of those rare moments when the broader public is paying close attention to this issue.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.