Bill O’Reilly and GOP Candidates Out of Step on Guns

I’m a bit stunned that on the subject of ‪gun control‬ pretty much the entire Republican presidential field, as well as GOP leadership in Washington, is out of step with Bill O’Reilly. The Fox News pundit said last night that President Obama’s executive orders increasing regulation of gun sales were “reasonable.”

To those who might think otherwise, he said: “The FBI should background check anyone buying a firearm in America. The FBI should background check anyone buying a firearm in America. That just makes sense. If you are paranoid and believe the government is stockpiling information so they can come to your house and take your guns, that’s your problem, your problem. But the government has an obligation to enhance public safety.”

What’s going on here? One could say he’s right, and he is. Even the National Rifle Association appears to be at least ambivalent about the exercise of the president’s constitutional discretion in prosecuting statutory law.

Another interpretation is that this is the result of the party making no room for dissent. For most of Obama’s tenure, anything short of the Second Amendment as an absolute right has been seen as “lawlessness,” “tyranny,” “sacrilege,” pick your favorite noun.

Yet another interpretation is that O’Reilly, like other big-business establishment Republicans, is very much concerned about the Republicans’ image in the run-up to the presidential caucuses in Iowa. With rare exception, every response to the president’s executive orders–announced with sadness and tears from the White House, surrounded by the families of victims of gun violence, including the father of a 6-year-old massacred in Connecticut- has sounded downright daffy.

And I don’t mean I merely disagree with such statements. I mean they are empirically wrong. And the Republicans’ urging to the contrary, during a time when voters are really paying attention to what the party is offering for the presidential nomination, lends credence to the growing impression that the Republicans are just nuts.

It’s like they don’t know how the American system works.

Needs examples?

Jeb Bush: “His first impulse is always to take rights away from law-abiding citizens. And it’s wrong. And to use executive authority that he doesn’t have is a pattern that’s quite dangerous.”

Wrong: He’s not taking away rights. He does not have that authority.

Donald Trump: “I don’t like anything to do with changing our Second Amendment.”

Wrong again: A president can’t change the Constitution.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the president intends to take executive action to restrict gun ownership in America.

Nope: You can still buy a gun if you’re law-abiding.

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, writing on Twitter: “So, the guy who sells guns from our government to radical Syrian rebels lectures law-abiding Americans about selling guns to each other.”

Ugh: This has nothing to do with Syria.

The Congress makes laws and the executive branch enforces them. Unless the Congress is very specific about what the executive branch should do in enforcing the law, the executive branch must, as a practical necessity, have a measure of discretion in performing its constitutional responsibilities.

Congress can also express its intent but leave it to the executive branch to work out the details. That is, the rules and regulations that go into achieving the intent of statutory law. Moreover, the Congress needs a federal bureaucracy to make those determinations, because Congress is typically unable to focus on such deliberations, because, you know, it’s Congress.

So: Obama’s executive orders are not a power grab. Congress could pass a bill saying he can’t issue such orders if Congress wanted to, but it won’t, because the Republicans won’t. His orders are not executive overreach. Again, Congress could act. And it is certainly not, as Trump asserts, an attempt to change the Second Amendment, which would take not only an act of Congress with the president’s approval but also ratification by the states.

Before you start thinking that O’Reilly has come to his senses, think again. This is what happens when a party realizes a lot of voters are starting to pay attention, and voters, serious informed voters, are seeing that many of the Republicans don’t know how government works.

If I were Bill O’Reilly, I might do the same.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.