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Republicans in Congress Warn Against Executive Action on Gun Control
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) �" President Barack Obama has not proposed any specific executive actions on gun control in response to the community college shooting that killed nine people in Oregon last week, but Republican lawmakers have responded harshly to suggestions from the White House that he may act unilaterally on the issue.

"I do not believe an executive order's going to solve any problems here," said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA).

In an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Fleming claimed that statistics do not support the contention that stricter gun laws would reduce crime.

"The president going beyond his powers to do things that should go through legislation is a bad idea," he said, "and I would disagree with that of course...I think the president is politicizing these horrible deaths."

Obama predicted and dismissed such criticisms in his statement to the media following Thursday's shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

"What's also routine is that somebody somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue," Obama said. "Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic."

Some Republicans have taken the argument against Obama even further, though, alleging that he is trying to subvert the Constitution.

"The president came into office hating guns," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) told Sinclair.

"The president hasn't won one battle on the Second Amendment," Issa said. "He's been consistently wrong. Perhaps he should go back to law school and find out what kind of a constitutional lawyer he would be if he actually had to live with the Constitution."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said Obama's reported consideration of executive action on gun control is an example of how he is "a lawless president" and Congress is failing to rein him in. According to Gohmert, that can have dangerous consequences.

"When no part of government is forcing other parts to follow the law, then you start moving toward anarchy, and you start moving toward a public that is so upset that they may act out in ways that we really don't want that are detrimental to our society."

Gohmert also claimed statistics show the murder rate "has just gone through the roof" in cities that have strict gun laws. Some experts have disputed that alleged correlation.

"You have to ask the question, does this president want more murders? Because what he's pushing for causes them," Gohmert said.

According to Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the Second Amendment prohibits the kind of restrictions Obama might be seeking.

"The president would be grossly overstepping his boundaries to try through executive order to restrict Americans, law abiding citizens' right to bear and keep arms."

Johnson said Obama needs to come to Congress and work with Republicans to find solutions, but "he's reluctant to talk to Congress on any issues."

Democrats interviewed Wednesday aimed their frustration at their own colleagues in the legislature.

"There are people in the House of Representatives who are so tired of just standing and lamenting the deaths," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). "It is so painful and we do it over and over. The real silence has been in the United States Congress not acting."

Following a moment of silence in the House earlier this week, Schakowsky shouted out, "Let's do something." If Congress does not pass gun control laws, she told Sinclair she supports Obama taking executive action.

"If we can't get the support, yes, the president should scour all the rules and look for ways that he can act on his own. Not the best way, but perhaps the only way for the foreseeable future."

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) agreed that an executive order may be the only way something gets done, but he does not believe it will solve the problem.

"I know the president is frustrated. I am as well, and I think most Americans are. But I'm not sure that an executive order in this instance is going to deal with the problem like it should be dealt with," Cleaver told Sinclair.

He pointed out that executive actions have been used for major policy actions in the past, including the emancipation proclamation, but he said it would be better if Congress addressed the issue. He did not seem optimistic that would happen anytime soon, though, despite last week's shooting.

"Maybe if we start having shootouts in bars and in grocery stores, that will inspire us to do something," he said.

Obama spoke out passionately last week on the failure of Congress to take action on gun control in the wake of several previous mass shootings, and he hinted that his staff is looking into executive orders on the matter.

"I've asked my team, as I have in the past, to scrub what kinds of authorities do we have to enforce the laws that we have in place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," Obama said at a press conference last Friday.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sparked a larger debate over the use of executive action with the proposal for confronting gun violence that she released Monday. Clinton said she would act on her own whenever possible if Congress does not pass gun control legislation.

Clinton's proposal includes pushing for comprehensive federal background checks, closing loopholes in the system, repealing legislation that gives the firearm industry immunity from lawsuits, and improving laws intended to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing or possessing guns.

She specifically mentioned using executive action to tighten loopholes surrounding gun show and online weapon sales if necessary.

"I want to push hard to get more sensible restraints," Clinton told NBC. "I want to work with Congress, but I will look at ways as president."

Clinton also tweeted Monday, "If Congress refuses to act to end this epidemic of gun violence, I'll take administrative action to do so."

Clinton's words led reporters to question White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about whether President Obama would also be willing to use executive actions to enact gun control measures.

"The president has, frequently, pushed his team to consider a range of executive actions that could more effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn't have access to them," Earnest said at Monday's press briefing.

He denied that the administration is "stumped" on the issue, saying that officials are reviewing the laws and consulting with legal authorities to determine what Obama may be able to do without congressional support.

Obama has angered Republicans with executive actions several times before on many issues, including a series of orders he signed regarding gun control after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

"Those have irritated Congress to no end," said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, "so I expect this would sort of add on to that."

Many of Obama's actions following Sandy Hook involved abstract measures like initiating reviews, developing proposals, and making commitments. Others entailed more concrete acts, such as requiring federal agencies to make relevant data available to the background check system and improving incentives for states to share information for background checks.

Political observers see little chance that even moderate gun control legislation can get through Congress with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate. In many ways, this makes executive action an appealing option for gun control supporters.

"I would say there's a zero percent chance of anything getting though" this Congress, Skelley said. He noted that relatively popular bipartisan legislation that would have expanded background checks failed to get through a Democrat-controlled Senate earlier in Obama's presidency.

There are drawbacks to this approach, though, particularly with little more than a year left in Obama's second term. Executive actions can only be used in narrow ways to change the interpretation of existing laws or to affect the way federal agencies operate.

As Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration illustrated, reinterpreting certain laws could enable the president to expand or reduce their scope. He could not use these actions to launch new initiatives and bypass Congress completely.

More importantly, given that a new president will take office in January 2017, any action Obama takes could immediately be reversed by his successor if they disagree with him.

While Clinton and other Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed some gun control efforts, most leading Republican candidates are against the type of measures Obama may be considering. Some candidates have also been very vocal in their criticism of Obama's use of executive actions in general and have already promised to repeal many of them.

"In January 2017, we will have a new president and if I am elected president, the very first thing I intend to do on the first day is rescind every single unconstitutional or illegal executive action from President Obama," Sen. Ted Cruz told Breitbart News in April.

The response to Thursday's shooting from the Republican candidates has mostly focused on mental illness rather than guns, and some have said the reality is that things like this will continue to happen.

"You know, no matter what you do, guns, no guns, it doesn't matter," front-runner Donald Trump said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "You have people that are mentally ill. And they're going to come through the cracks."

Dr. Ben Carson, the candidate currently in second place in the Republican race in most polls, told Sinclair Tuesday that he is open to considering any ideas that could prevent gun violence, including expanded background checks, but only if they do not infringe upon law-abiding citizens' right to bear arms.

"I'm willing to talk about anything as long as we don't compromise the Second Amendment," Carson said.

Addressing supporters on Facebook, Carson further explained his views on the importance of gun rights: "I grew up in the slums of Detroit. I saw plenty of gun violence as a child. Both of my cousins were killed on the streets. As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking - but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away."

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has blamed the frequency of mass shootings in America on "cultural rot" and the glorification of senseless violence. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee told CNN the problem was "sin and evil," not access to weapons.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been criticized for his comments in response to the Oregon shooting, in which he argued that expanding gun control measures in response to the incident would be a mistake.

"Look stuff happens, there's always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it's not always the right thing to do," Bush said at an event Friday.

During Monday's White House press briefing, Earnest acknowledged that no laws can prevent all crimes, but he countered that this is not a reason to refuse to act.

"I'll just stipulate one last time," he said, "there's no piece of legislation that Congress can pass that will prevent every single incident of gun violence. But if there are some common-sense things that Congress can do that would prevent even a handful of acts of gun violence without undermining the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, why wouldn't they do it?"

Gun control advocates see potential for progress via executive actions if the president pursued that route.

Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization formed after the Sandy Hook shooting, issued a report this week detailing five specific actions that it believes Obama has the authority to take right now.

The report recommends that Obama take action to:

  1. Ensure that dangerous people with guns are not permitted within 1,000 feet of schools
  2. Clarify the definition of gun sellers engaged in "business" in order to expand background check requirements
  3. Instruct federal law enforcement to arrest criminals who try to buy illegal guns
  4. Publish aggregate background check denial data for guns sold by unlicensed sellers
  5. Clarify that convicted domestic abusers are prohibited from owning guns regardless of their marital status
These ideas mirror many of the proposals Clinton announced. Some are small steps, but as Obama has said, even minor progress on the issue has often proven elusive.

With her campaign frequently mired in controversy over her email practices during her term as secretary of state, Clinton could benefit politically from issuing the proposal that brought the executive action question to the forefront.

Taking a hard stance on guns enables her to create a contrast with her leading rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and it is a rare chance to appear more liberal than him. Sanders, from the rural and gun-friendly state of Vermont, has a mixed record on gun control.

Sanders voted against the Brady handgun bill in 1993 and he supported legislation that protected gun manufacturers from lawsuits. He has supported Democrats' efforts to enact gun control legislation since the Sandy Hook shooting, though.

"It's an opportunity for her to make appeals to progressives who may be uncertain about her candidacy and may like what Bernie Sanders has to say" on other issues, Skelley said.

Some of the general ideas that Obama and his allies have put forth enjoy broad public support, but specific policy proposals tend to raise concerns among gun rights groups.

"We can ask a lot of these questions in a vacuum...It's very hard to find compromise with the specifics," Skelley said.

With a ticking clock before Obama leaves office, the long-term consequences and significance of any changes made through executive action are unclear.

"Given the division on this issue in the country, it's something of a political statement," Skelley said.

Some in Congress said Wednesday that they would reserve judgment until they see what executive actions Obama may propose.

"If he could make a difference, I think most people would like to see that," said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who suggested the public would support a measure that deals effectively with mental health. He does not feel it is the government's place to dictate what weapons people can buy or how many, though.

"The main thing is keeping them out of the hands of people who potentially could commit crimes...You need measures that would make a difference, not just something that's a cosmetic Band-Aid," Mica said.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told Sinclair he did not know details of what the Obama administration may be considering, but he feels that preventing mass shootings goes beyond what can be accomplished with an executive order.

"Every president I believe has the right to exercise executive power where they can, but I don't think the scope of executive power is going to solve this problem," Casey said.

Instead, he said Democrats and Republicans in Congress need to craft a bipartisan strategy that deals with matters like mental health and background checks that do have widespread support among lawmakers and the public.

"The problem has to be solved in this building," Casey said, pointing to the Capitol behind him.

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