Should President Obama use an executive order to strengthen gun control?

Joe Biden says all options are on the table, including running around Congress

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting to discuss gun control, on Jan. 9.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Emerging from a meeting with gun control advocates, Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the White House would consider using an executive order to reduce gun violence in America. "The president is going to act," Biden said. "There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet, but we're compiling it all."

Biden's remarks come as he prepares to meet with the National Rifle Association and gun sellers — including Walmart — in the coming days to discuss reforming America's gun laws. The meetings are part of his efforts, as head of a recently created gun-control task force, to examine the issue before making recommendations to the White House. Biden did not specify what executive actions he had in mind, but his comment was apparently intended to convey the Obama administration's determination to follow through on some form of gun control while memories of the schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut are still fresh. "I want to make clear that we're not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing," Biden said.

If the Obama administration is genuinely willing to circumvent congressional Republicans, it would undoubtedly please gun-control supporters. However, an "all options on the table" threat, familiar from the administration's statements on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, could merely be a way of indicating determination as the White House heads into negotiations with the GOP. The strategy would be in keeping with the notion that Obama has given up on playing nice with Republicans, many of whom, as Obama claims, have trouble saying "yes" to him. As Glenn Thrush and Reid J. Epstein at Politico write:

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Obama, the same president who campaigned twice on breaking the cycle of conflict in Washington, sees the utility — even the necessity — of rattling Republican cages as he plunges into a succession of upcoming battles over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the debt ceiling, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts, immigration reform and gun control.

Obama’s willingness to take a more overtly adversarial stance is, in part, a nod to the reality that he’s about to start his second term with solid approval numbers — "Hit now, as hard as you can, because your power starts to die in six, eight months," according to a top aide to a Senate Republican who has often locked horns with the White House. [Politico]

If the preliminary reactions on the right are any indication, then cages have certainly been rattled by Biden's remarks. The conservative Drudge Report, for example, has posted photographs of Hitler and Stalin on its homepage to suggest, with the subtlety of a hammer, what an executive order on guns would amount to. And therein lies one of the risks of using executive orders on such a controversial issue: The ensuing de-legitimization of even common-sense laws with accusations of executive overreach and (much, much) worse.

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