How the President’s Executive Power Could Influence Gun Law

Direct action could be taken but effectiveness is questioned

Barack Obama

In the wake of recent violent events many turn to the country’s elected officials to observe their response. President Obama has significant power, but he could be limited in his abilities to directly enforce further restrictions.

“Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Obama said in his recent national address..

The President also said firearms sellers “also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons, like the ones that were used in San Bernardino.”

Advocates for stricter gun laws believe Obama is prepared to use executive power in drawing attention to gun violence. Some say say he may use executive power to “clarify” the existing law—perhaps by adding a set number of guns sold, or the amount of money that a person can pull in from gun sales—and determine what constitutes being in the firearms business. Doing so would require more sellers to be licensed,” a recent article in The Atlantic reported.

While Obama could have an influence on popular opinion, he’s not about to make huge changes to the nation’s gun laws. One of the reasons for this has to do with the fact he’s already exercised his authority as far as he can when it comes to gun laws. Also, he can’t alter existing laws or create new ones himself. Add to all that, President Obama’s time is limited with his presidency nearing the end.

“The next president can get rid of whatever he does,” said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “The durability of executive action is much thinner than legislation, and much more fragile.”

Many Republican candidates vow to reverse Obama’s executive orders with their own executive actions. Donald Trump has already said that a lot of “unsigning” of Obama’s executive orders will occur.

“Unless somehow he invokes wartime power, but that’s not going to happen,” Zelizer said. “No, he has to deal with laws pertaining to background checks and licenses and try to take action through that. Without question, his preference is legislation, but I think he just doesn’t see that happening. Even if public opinion is strongly on the side on regulation, the process is broken.”