Vice President Joe Biden, who has been charged by President Obama with running the task force to prevent situations like the Sandy Hook massacre, announced that he wouldn’t be raising legislative solutions at all.
Instead, he said that President Obama might simply declare his preferred gun policy the law of the nation.
Talking to the drooling press, Biden announced, “The president is going to act. There are executive orders, there’s executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet. But we’re compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action that we believe is required.”
Biden stated, “As the president said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking. But I’m convinced we can affect the well-being of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.”
Executive orders have long been a staple of American governance – but not for use in crafting completely new policy. The Constitution merely talks of “executive power” and states that the executive branch shall “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Major actions, up to and including war, have been conducted through executive order – but not without an authorization from Congress, even if that authorization was not an out-and-out declaration of war.
The widest-scope executive order ever issued was obvioulsy FDR’s executive order interning Japanese Americans. The Supreme Court justified FDR’s internment policy under Executive Order 9066 in the infamous Korematsu v. US (1942). Other famous executive orders – like the Eisenhower executive order to desegregate public schools – followed hard on court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education (1955).
This case, however, is most like Executive Order 10340 from Harry Truman, which tried to seize all steel mills in the country. The Supreme Court thought that went too far, and in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), they ruled that Truman’s executive order exceeded his constitutional mandate, since it created new law rather than enforcing old law.
Aside from executive orders designed to facilitate existing state/federal information sharing regarding gun purchases, it is difficult to imagine President Obama carving out the ability to legislate guns in a broad way. But challenges to executive power haven’t stopped him before.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, and author of the book “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).