RSS
Could Obama be impeached for taking action on gun control?
A former U.S. attorney general joins a group of angry Republicans who really, really don't want the president to beef up gun laws through executive fiat
 
Talk of Obama issuing executive orders about gun-control has gun-rights advocates crying "tyranny."
Talk of Obama issuing executive orders about gun-control has gun-rights advocates crying "tyranny." Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Gun control opponents in Congress, mostly Republican, are in a quandary. The NRA's punchy response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting "contributed to a significant fall-off in favorable opinions of the gun lobby," says David Weigel at Slate. Plus, gun-control proponents (mostly Democrats) are unusually emboldened, and President Obama is making a high-profile push for remarkably high-polling gun-safety measures that likely won't make it through the GOP-controlled House, plus "executive orders that Republicans have pre-condemned and limitations on sales that they have pre-judged as pointless." Some House Republicans are trying to keep an open mind, at least in public, but "chest-pounding" is easier, and "the single most quoted Republican congressman on gun rights this week was Texas Rep. Steve Stockman," who vowed to file articles of impeachment against Obama if he dares to "abuse executive power and infringe upon gun rights," causing an "existential threat to this nation."

It's easy to dismiss Stockman, a newly elected legislator with a dodgy background, and those who have joined his impeachment crusade — professional conspiracist Alex Jones and conservative radio host Mark Levin, for example — as lunatic fringe. But it's a little harder to write off former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, a top law enforcement official in the Reagan administration and a luminary emeritus at the Heritage Foundation. In an interview with Newsmax (watch below), Meese says that if Obama "tried to override the Second Amendment in any way, I believe it would be an impeachable offense."

An executive order without specific congressional authority can only apply to those portions of the government that are under his control — in their words, the executive branch. Now there are some things he can probably do in regard to the actions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or some other governmental agency in its operations. But to impose burdens or regulations that affect society generally, he would have to have congressional authorization.... [If Obama does move unilaterally against guns] it would be up to the Congress to take action, such as looking in to it to see if, in fact, he has really tried to override the Constitution itself. In which case, it would be up to them to determine what action they should take — and perhaps even to the point of impeachment. [Newsmax]

This talk of impeachment must have gun-control advocates scratching their heads, if not shaking them in wonderment, since any executive action Obama is likely to take will be relatively toothless orders to enforce existing laws and steer funding toward research on the causes of gun violence. But "a certain segment of the gun-rights community has become intensely worried Obama is set to take away guns by fiat," says Evan McMorris-Santoro at Talking Points Memo. So you get talk of "tyranny" (Rep. Jeff Duncan) and Obama trying to act "like a king or monarch" (Sen. Rand Paul), and even a Tennessee firearms instructor who threatened to "start killing people" if Obama takes executive action.

"It is a safe bet that the NRA will throw whatever it can get its hands on, even dirt, even things that are uglier," says Amy Davidson at The New Yorker. And so will its allies in Congress. "The personal animosity toward Obama is striking; but it is no longer entirely surprising, and the White House will need to reckon with it if it is to make sure that it does not waste this moment, in which there is an opening, however narrow, to get something done about gun control." There's nothing rational about threatening impeachment here, especially based on a misreading of the Second Amendment — even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledges that the "right to bear arms" isn't absolute. 

To counter this, Obama offers the sensible — and he should never stop doing so. Madness in one's opponents is no excuse for abandoning good sense; it makes it even more imperative to hold on to it as hard as one can. But if it is all one comes with, one risks slipping into a state of defeated self-satisfaction. If the gun conversation is not taking place in the realm of sense, Obama has to figure out how to actively drag it back there.... He might need to get a little angry. We need to talk about good sense when it comes to gun control. After Newtown, and Aurora, and Tucson, and a dozen other places, we also need to talk about things like courage and shame. In his press conference, Obama said that he'd make his proposals, "And then members of Congress I think are going to have to have a debate and examine their own conscience." They will, and he, and the rest of us, can't let them forget it. [New Yorker]

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week