Folks on one side of the aisle have been off the rails about the possibility of President Obama’s executive orders in the gun control debate. Another of those infamous White House petitions has been started. This one is called “Impeach President Barack Obama if Executive Orders are signed to ban Assault Rifles, Guns & High Capacity Magazines”. The text of it reads
The Vice President has made it clear that 19 Executive Orders could / will come about if an Assault Rifle / High Capacity Magazine ban is not passed through the House. This is a violation of our 2nd Amendment. I propose that our elected officials Impeach President Barack Obama if he signs executive orders to take away this right to bear arms. Our 2nd Amendment was written to stand up against a tyrant government. Our government has F18s and F16s, we the people should be allowed a Semi Automatic Rifles to defend ourselves from a possible tyrant government take over.
As of this writing more than 96,000 signatures had been affixed. The lethality of an AR-15 against “F18s and F16s” has not been verified as of this writing.
Some levels of ignorance are deep. That is not meant as insult, but according to the strict usage of the word. Most people simply have not taken the time to determine reality, or maybe people do not care. Either way, as with the petition above, it does not slow the opinion making or proclaiming, errant though it may be. There is a certain comfort level that comes with parroting what you have heard rather than finding the truth.
Enough of the opinion piece, back to the post…
Online resource Wikipedia says about executive orders (sometimes called “presidential directives”):
United States Presidents issue executive orders to help officers and agencies of the executive branch manage the operations within the federal government itself. Executive orders have the full force of law, since issuances are typically made in pursuance of certain Acts of Congress, some of which specifically delegate to the President some degree of discretionary power (delegated legislation), or are believed to take authority from a power granted directly to the Executive by the Constitution.
According to the Government Archives, “Executive orders are official documents, numbered consecutively, through which the President of the United States manages the operations of the Federal Government.”
Another explanation is given here,
Executive Orders (EOs) are legally binding orders given by the President, acting as the head of the Executive Branch, to Federal Administrative Agencies. Executive Orders are generally used to direct federal agencies and officials in their execution of congressionally established laws or policies. However, in many instances they have been used to guide agencies in directions contrary to congressional intent.
Not all EOs are created equal. Proclamations, for example, are a special type of Executive Order that are generally ceremonial or symbolic, such as when the President declares National Take Your Child To Work Day. Another subset of Executive Orders are those concerned with national security or defense issues. These have generally been known as National Security Directives. Under the Clinton Administration, they have been termed “Presidential Decision Directives.”
Executive Orders do not require Congressional approval to take effect but they have the same legal weight as laws passed by Congress. The President’s source of authority to issue Executive Orders can be found in the Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution which grants to the President the “executive Power.” Section 3 of Article II further directs the President to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” To implement or execute the laws of the land, Presidents give direction and guidance to Executive Branch agencies and departments, often in the form of Executive Orders.
They detail which part of the executive branch is responsible for a dropped ball, and extend EOs issued by previous presidents. In short an executive order has the force of law because it is intended to clarify existing law. It would make very little sense to patch a concrete wall with a bandaid.
This is not to say some president would not–or has not–used them inappropriately or expanded the powers of the executive branch unconstitutionally. I have no doubts about that. But, they all do it, not merely the ones “on the other team.”
How it usually works is this: Republican President issues executive order. Republicans assert its absolute necessity or ignore it altogether. Democrats’ hair catch on fire and warn of implosion of democracy.
Democrat President issues executive order. Democrats cheer as if biblical prophecy has been fulfilled. Republicans, with scalps on fire, warn of looming dictatorship.
Libertarians warn of both no matter who is in the presidency, but that’s for another post.
The fact is that President Obama is on pace to issue fewer executive orders than George W. Bush (291), Bill Clinton (364), Ronald Reagan (381), Jimmy Carter (320), Richard Nixon (364), Lyndon Johnson (324), Dwight D. Eisenhower (486), Harry S. Truman (896), Franklin D. Roosevelt (3,728, *winner). Through 2012 Obama has issued only 144. (Click here for EO numbers, dates and subjects.)
Simply and fairly all presidents use EOs when they feel such instruments are needed. Since Hoover, all presidents save 2 or 3 have used EOs to a greater degree than Barack Obama. The sky is not falling until he decides he wants to pass Truman or Roosevelt. If he tries, we all will know because he will need carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists.
*-In fairness, Roosevelt was in office 13 or so years and governed during a world war. Still his average per year was far above all others.
UPDATE: See also The list of Obama’s 23 executive orders on gun control