Executive Orders, Gun Control and the Power of Creative Journalism

What is an Executive Order?

Executive Orders have long been a controversial power of the President of the United States.  Their very existence is based on a loose interpretation of the US Constitution’s grant of “executive power” to the President.  While typically used to help manage the agencies under the purview of the executive branch, Executive Orders have stirred controversy throughout history with occasional claims that an order exceeded executive authority.  When you agree with the President, Executive Orders are necessary for the function of the country.  When you don’t, they are a way to work around the will of the people.

Executive Orders have been challenged legally throughout history, with a Supreme Court ruling in 1952 – over an Executive Order signed by President Truman that gave federal control over all steel mills – that found that order invalid because it “attempted to make law, rather than clarify or act to further a law put forth by the Congress or the Constitution.”  (Quoted from Wikipedia, because my research is shallow like that.)

Who cares about Executive Orders?

Apparently today – everyone.  President Obama issued the highly anticipated “gun control agenda”, which included 12 points of proposed legislation and 23 executive orders.  And almost immediately, we hear “TYRANNY!”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show on Tuesday night (prior to the official announcement of the proposal), said:

“I’m against having a king. … Someone who wants to bypass the Constitution, bypass Congress, that’s someone who wants to act like a king or a monarch. We will fight tooth and nail and, I promise you, there will be no rock left unturned as far as trying to stop him from usurping the Constitution.”

Let’s take a look at the sweeping gun control changes President Obama has committed to via Executive Order:  (From 01/16/2013 NYTimes.com article, “What’s in Obama’s Gun Control Proposal“)

  • Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
  • Addressing unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
  • Improving incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
  • Directing the attorney general to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
  • Proposing a rule making to give law enforcement authorities the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
  • Publishing a letter from the A.T.F. to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
  • Starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
  • Reviewing safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
  • Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
  • Releasing a report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and making it widely available to law enforcement authorities.
  • Nominating an A.T.F. director.
  • Providing law enforcement authorities, first responders and school officials with proper training for armed attacks situations.
  • Maximizing enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
  • Issuing a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
  • Directing the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenging the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
  • Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
  • Releasing a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
  • Providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
  • Developing model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
  • Releasing a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
  • Finalizing regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within insurance exchanges.
  • Committing to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
  • Starting a national dialogue on mental health led by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.

In the interest of giving Senator Paul the benefit of the doubt (I’m feeling generous tonight), his comment was issued prior to plan having been released.  I am completely unable to identify even one moderately controversial item in this list of Executive Orders.  In fact, many of the items in this list are recommendations made by the NRA, such as exploring mental health issues, training first responders and teachers, and enforcing existing laws.

But surely, now that the details have been published, the controversy around the Executive Orders has died down. Oh, contraire.

wtfAnd here is where we get to the creative journalism, also known as mis-reporting facts.  

I surfed around a bit looking at various articles about today’s announcement.  The major news outlets reported the facts accurately, albeit certainly with various slants based on their audiences.  CNN.com seemed to focus on the tough fight ahead for any legislation to pass, while Fox News focused on specific aspects of proposed legislation and their perceived threat against second amendment rights.

But it’s the less scrutinized, small publications that seem to have no issue with blatantly mis-representing information.  If I were the kind of person who actually believed the stuff that I read online, I would be woefully mis-informed.  An article published today by Outdoor Life – admittedly not a highly reputable “news” source – starts with this paragraph:

As anticipated, President Barack Obama unveiled his sweeping gun control package Wednesday, only instead of issuing the anticipated 19 executive orders, he delivered 23 presidential fiats that include an assault weapons ban, outlawing ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets and requiring background checks for every gun buyer in America.

Well…no.  That’s simply untrue.  Because I’m still feeling generous, I am going to chalk this up to really poor research and no journalistic integrity.  Because if that’s not the case, then I’d have to believe that this writer is simply lying about the facts to stir up fear – and that can’t possibly be true.  (It’s Outdoor Life – a mediocre, special interest magazine.  Why am I getting so worked up about it?)

Kudos to the reader who had already pointed out to the author that his facts are wrong.  I wanted to add my own comment, but it required me to connect their magazine to my Facebook account and I just don’t care enough to give them access to my personal details.

Sorry.  This post was a bit ranty.

I do typically aim to publish more cohesive posts – but I’m dumbstruck by the negative reaction to today’s gun control proposal, and for now, the best I can do is to rant about the mis-representation of the executive orders.

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