With executive order on guns, Obama builds on the imperial presidency

It seems that some remedial civics is in order.

President Barack Obama wipes away tears in announcing a number of gun control actions by executive order. Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Barack Obama wipes away tears in announcing a number of gun control actions by executive order. Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

This week, President Barack Obama, after weeping on television, signed several executive orders intended to, in his words, “address the problem of gun violence in this country.”

Most liberals cheered the stroke of Obama’s pen. Finally, they said, the president was going to break the gridlock in Washington, D.C., and go around those obstructionist Republicans who refused to “do something” (the siren’s song of censors and oppressive autocrats), in the wake of repeated national mass-shooting tragedies such as Sandy Hook.

But therein lies the problem. Because liberals agree with what the president was doing in signing those executive orders, they were supportive, despite the legal concerns they should have had. In so doing they prioritized results over law, because ultimately action is more important to them than the constitutional process.

“So what?” you might say. “I’m sick of our leaders not doing anything about this problem, and I’m glad somebody is finally doing something!”

And here’s where remedial civics comes in.

Congress failing to enact a law that is proposed by the administration is not “failing to act,” it is “failure to agree with the president.” Such failure to agree — particularly when it is from Congress, from which laws are supposed to emanate — is the natural byproduct of representative democracy and is meant to make change difficult.

And it is difficult, in this case, with good cause. The executive orders the president signed would have done absolutely nothing to stop tragedies like Sandy Hook, nor would it fundamentally change gun deaths in this country at all, two-thirds of which are suicidal, self-inflicted gun shots.

Pointless in solving the problem as they are, though, these executive orders were still incredibly important given the scope of Obama’s overreach and the precedent it sets. We are not talking about declarations designed to give federal employees a small pay raise or clarify the hierarchical flowchart used in the executive branch.

This was a major action meant to dictate how arms can be bought and sold and intrude on the private sale of guns while simultaneously allowing the Second Amendment to be circumvented by something as minor as a doctor’s referral.

The Bill of Rights is not something to be so carelessly trifled with. It must be protected, even if you don’t like what it says.

If, for instance, you hate the Second Amendment and believe it is responsible for needless death in this country, fine. You are allowed to believe that, and you can even do something about it.

That something is called the amendment process. It has now been used a total of 27 times.

Propose an amendment to the Constitution, and see if you can get anywhere. If you can’t, that is democracy, and disagreement with the outcome does not give any president the right to discount, ignore, or attempt to curtail the Bill of Rights by executive fiat.

If he or she could, then any executive, authoritarian president can curtail any of your rights at any time for any reason, simply because they don’t like them.

You think I am overreacting? Think this is just the oversensitive complaint of a partisan who loves guns and the Second Amendment?

Okay. Than travel with me to a hypothetical parallel universe where a Republican president has just signed an Executive Order placing deep restrictions on abortion clinics — such as the institution of hospital-style rules and building codes for abortion clinics — without the input or action of Congress.

Assuming you are a left-leaning citizen of this country, I would anticipate such an action would make you howl with blind rage.

The truth is, our system of government was set up to frustrate and stymie any future dictatorial, autocratic presidents from behaving in exactly such a way.

The Constitution and its Bill of Rights were designed to protect our citizens from federal violations of personal liberty and required the president to have to deal with the elected representatives in Congress to enact laws.

President Obama, like so many of his predecessors — and yes, I mean the Republicans just as much as the Democrats — has increasingly spit in the face of that system of government by concentrating power in the executive branch, legislating by executive order, and building around him an imperial presidency.

Maybe you like that now, but remember, he and the presidents who came before him have been opening Pandora’s Box and setting precedent.

The next time someone you don’t support who does things you don’t like is in the West Wing, be prepared for the power you gleefully allowed Barack Obama to have without challenging him to be used against you. None of us should want that.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.