We the People: Time for change

President Obama defended his use of executive orders to increase federal gun regulations on live television. “We’re going to require firearms dealers to report more lost or stolen guns on a timely basis,” he said in a statement before the town hall meeting. He is forced to act because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has managed to assure complete inaction on gun regulation from our Republican Congress.

He said further, “The way we break the deadlock on this issue is when … the NRA does not have a stranglehold on Congress in this debate.” He did re-affirm a citizen’s right to buy a gun when he told a Colorado rape victim that there is, “nothing we’re proposing that prevents you or makes it harder for you to purchase a firearm if you need one.”

President Obama urged people to move beyond the emotional conspiracy theories propounded by gun rights groups since “the challenge of this is that the gun debate gets wrapped up in broader debates about whether the federal government is oppressive and [the] conspiracy theories floating around ….” We impose requirements for drivers to use automobiles and we require registration and insurance for the automobiles, but people don’t debate whether there is a federal conspiracy to seize all cars.

Mr. Obama signed executive orders and directed executive actions all aimed at reducing potential gun violence. The key provision requires gun sellers — including occasional ones and ones who sell over the Internet — to be licensed and to conduct background checks on potential buyers. Another provision directs $500 million in federal funds to treat mental illness and another requires firearms lost or stolen be reported to federal authorities.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will establish a new investigation center to track illegal gun trafficking online and will devote funds and personnel to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. The ATF will license occasional gun sellers and monitor the background checks for the Internet and show sales. President Obama needed to issue an executive order since the NRA spends millions of dollars to make sure local regulations are never considered or rescinded, or to cow representatives from taking action.

President Obama said the “gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they can’t hold America hostage.” He is right. Something must be done to address mass shootings and gun violence.  Does it matter if this regulation only prevents one mass shooting? Republicans are outraged that the president would address any firearms regulation without obtaining permission from the NRA beforehand. An improvement in the efforts of federal and local law enforcement to stop guns from getting into the hands of unqualified individuals should be welcomed.

Executive orders are part of the president’s powers and may be used to direct the action of executive agencies under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. George Washington passed the first executive order on April 22, 1793 requiring prosecution of a citizen who “interfered” in the war between England and France. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the most executive orders, 3,721, or more than 307 for every year in office. President Obama has only issued about 33 a year, which is the fewest since President Grover Cleveland was in office in 1886.

The NRA presented seminars this year, “Current & Emerging Threats,” to rapt attendees who were warned that United States is secretly controlled by Islamic terrorists in the No-Gun Zones in American cities and “Sheepdogs! The Bulletproof Mind for the Armed Citizen” that urged gun owners to toughen up in preparation to “snuff out a human life” and to remind them that “once you’ve made the decision to take a human life you’re a transformed creature.” It also warned that you will need your guns nearby when the “radioactive rain” falls across America.

Dr. Ben Carson, Republican candidate for president, delivered a speech reassuring listeners that America needs more firearms so that the “population [will not] be defenseless against a group of tyrants who have arms.” If elected, will he turn over the nation’s military arsenals to the general population?

The NRA was founded in 1871 to advance rifle marksmanship but its purpose was twisted to fight any law that possibly restricts gun rights. The NRA did not oppose the first federal gun control law: the National Firearms Act of 1934, and its president, Karl Frederick, before Congress, testified, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons …. It should be sharply restricted ….”

The NRA through its Political Victory Fund (PVF) political action committee has the power of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and millions in donations from gun manufacturers. Lawmakers and their staffers consider the NRA one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in America. It uses the money to influence politicians and to sue to establish legal precedents that favor gun ownership.

In 2004, the NRA successfully opposed renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. In 2009, the NRA successfully challenged San Francisco’s ban on guns in public housing. In 2013, the NRA joined a lawsuit challenging New York’s gun control law (SAFE ACT) that restricted magazine capacity and expanded a ban on assault weapons. It argued that Governor Cuomo “usurped the legislative and democratic process” in passing the law. Even when the executive and legislative branches of a state government pass a law, the NRA tries to have the final word on the rights of all citizens.

In 2014, the NRA lobbied to have standing to sue municipalities in Pennsylvania so it could challenge any municipal firearm regulations passed in violation of a 1974 state law that barred municipalities from passing restrictions which were “pre-empted by state gun laws.” The law provided that the courts could award legal fees to successful plaintiffs.

As soon the law passed, the NRA sued Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster to overturn local bans on gun possession which included ones making it a crime for owners to fail to report stolen guns to the police. At least 20 Pennsylvania municipalities rescinded firearm regulations in response to threatened litigation. The NRA pushes itself into the lives and business of every American, and it is time for an American leader to push back.

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