The NRA and key GOP congressional leader's response to President Obama's new round of unilateral executive orders on gun control was as predictable as the sun rising in the Sahara Desert in August. The NRA thundered that they are useless, unconstitutional, and won't do a thing to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. The response from GOP congressional leaders was just as predictable: stone silence.
Obama's new executive orders that bolster the nearly two dozen executive orders he issued last January zero in on tougher background checks and more stringency in restricting the reimporting of guns back into the U.S. from abroad. The background check requirement was the deal breaker back in March when the Senate slammed the door on Obama's and the Senate Democratic leadership's gun control proposals supported by a handful of key Republicans.
The new background requirement is not universal. It is limited to choking off the use of trusts and/or corporations as fronts to buy guns from while evading any background checks. This is not insignificant. The ATF got nearly 40,000 requests last year for transfers of guns to trusts or corporations. How many of these weapons end up in the hands of criminals, or are used in gun related violence is anyone's guess in the absence of tighter checks over who the corporations or trusts sell the guns to.
Obama took the current action as he did last January for two reasons. One is the spectacular and grotesque mass killing last year in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut. This go round there's the equally heart wrenching murder in Duncan, Oklahoma, the continuing murder plague in Chicago, and other high profile senseless multiple gun related killings. The second reason is just as compelling. Congress will be back in session in September and by plopping a tougher background check requirement back on the political table, Obama has in effect laid down the gauntlet again to Congress and by extension the NRA.
This is crucial. The new executive orders, as the older ones, do not strike to the heart of how to stop a future mass killing as in Colorado or Connecticut or a brutally senseless killing as in Oklahoma. That's still Congress's job. The key congressional leaders that have pushed for more stringent gun control provisions have not totally thrown in the towel. The problem though is how to get conservative Democrats to back those provisions. That job is even tougher given that several that bolted last time and opposed the Senate gun control provisions face strong reelection fights in 2014.
Still, polls continue to show that the majority of Americans support stronger bans. In the decade since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, Congress has had ample chance to enact a slew of gun control curbs that would have compelled legal gun owners to store guns in a tamper-proof safe and secure enclosure, bar anyone undergoing or referred to treatment for mental or emotional disorders from purchasing or having direct access to guns, and clamping an absolute ban on the sale of assault weapons. These and other measures were repeatedly introduced in Congress and just as repeatedly buried before they ever reached the House or Senate floor.
Obama's proposed executive orders touch on many of the measures that the dogged handful of congressional gun control proponents has pushed for in the past. But they don't have anywhere near the wallop that congressional gun control laws would pack. The NRA is well aware of that. It knows that the name of the game on gun control is Congress. It has plowed millions into a well-financed, well-honed machine to lobby, harangue, threaten, and intimidate gun control advocates in Congress, and to try and defeat pro-gun control candidates. It has played watchdog over judicial appointments and moved quick to torpedo the confirmation of any judicial appointee who gives even the vaguest hint that he or she would be likely to issue a ruling upholding a gun curb. This has paid dividends. Time and again, state, and federal appeals courts and the Supreme Court have overturned city and state gun control laws.
Obama's executive orders thrusts him squarely back into the center of the gun control battle. This amounts to a frontal challenge to Congress to seriously debate the need for gun control legislation. The next round in that debate will be just as fierce, contentious, and the NRA will again spew its bogus argument that gun control bans won't reduce gun violence. The NRA will also saber rattle vulnerable Democrats and wayward Republicans that they'll target them for defeat by dumping bushels of campaign money into their opponents kitty if they don't tow the NRA line. But there's no turning a blind eye to the gun carnage that has torn the nation, and neither should Congress. Obama's gun control executive orders are a strong reminder of that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.