A few days ago President Obama signed twenty-one Executive Orders. What do twenty-one Executive Orders about ”making it safer for children” mean to me when it seems to me that they are about gun control? Are they an assault or an infringement on my rights under the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms? Is any one of the Orders making law or even bordering on that? If any of us older folks owns guns, how would s(he) feel about a national registration? Would an heir have to register an inherited weapon? Is it a slippery slope to removing guns, or even an erosion of the Second Amendment, erosion I have seen so often with the First Amendment? Twenty-one Executive Orders at one time are a monumental attempt to do or say something. What was the President trying to say or do???
I grew up in small Iowa towns seeing guns used to hunt, not for sport but for food. I watched my father clean his guns, and I went hunting with him. I can’t tell you where he kept them; I can tell you we were taught to use them and to respect them. We were taught not to point a gun at something or someone unless we intended to use it. Guns were kept for protection of family and possessions. When I heard a commotion in the barn, the chicken coop, or the family dogs were barking crazily in the middle of the night, I knew there was an intruder on two or four legs. I knew that my father would grab his gun and make things safe again for me, my family, my pet animals, and particularly my pony, Nippy.
As the President put pen to paper to sign these 21 Orders, my personal feeling was that I was watching a King or a Monarch give orders to his subjects, not my President serving the nation he is sworn to serve. It seemed more like an act in defiance of the Congress and the Constitution he swears to uphold. The question remains. “Why would my President do this?” After reading the 21 Orders, the question was more intense in my mind. Most of the Orders seemed quite mild and largely administrative. Why would he not pick up the phone or write a note to a department or staff person to implement fully existing law or policy? Why would he ask the Center for Disease Control, CDC, to study the issue of violence in our culture? Why not deal directly with Hollywood film makers who produce such violent films, game makers and producers of violent video games, and the producers of violent television shows? Why not use the many studies about violence that have been done over many years? Why the formality of Executive Orders?
Four of the Orders, including national registration of guns, a ban on assault weapons, and the restrictions imposed on ammunition, I believe, are a different matter. These would require legislation. The Constitution has a great sense of clarity about the separation of powers and the importance of that concept. The Founders wanted to make certain that total power over the people could never rest in one body or one person. That’s why we have a branch that creates laws, the Congress, a branch that enforces the laws, the executive branch, the President, and the Judicial Branch that adjudicates and interprets law when necessary.
Our Founders who wrote the Constitution gave us a document that guaranteed the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of the three branches in order to make certain that the power was divided and would always rest with the people. The Constitution does not start out with We the People by chance. The document is designed as the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
But for me, the burning question remains. Why the need for 21 Executive Orders? Since I had never seen such a bunch of Executive Orders signed by a president at one time in my 91 years, I wondered about the purpose of Executive Orders. As I understand the use, it is to help the president direct the executive branch using Executive Orders that deal with existing federal law or with powers expressly given to the President in the Constitution. Executive Orders are essentially governing by decree. The President has no authority to make law; that is the work of our elected legislators and is vested solely in the Congress. Again, this power is explicitly given to those directly elected by the people. Even Executive Orders may be overturned by federal legislation.
If the President did not intend to govern by decree, why did he choose to give that perception? At least the formality and auspicious nature of the signng appeared that way to me. Granted, the 21 Orders are about an emotionally and politically charged issue, gun control, an issue raw from recent violent events. But surely the President, a scholar of Constitutional Law, is quite aware of the limits of executive power. He knows laws are made by Congress, unless he thinks that he has the power to bypass Congress with his decrees.
Twenty-one Executive Orders sound very king-like to me; whether or not they are Constitutional is another matter. The Founders wrote the document that guaranteed the separation of powers; it is up to us to keep what they gave us. A republic isn’t guaranteed permanent existence just because it is called a republic. The people who cherish its freedoms must fight to keep them for their children.
We can be taught about the Constitution, but we must know it in our hearts and souls for us to know the depth of its importance. We must feel the pulse of the words and listen to them talking to us across the years. “To keep your freedoms you must understand what it would be like without them.” Go again and read the Second Amendment and understand that the Founders wanted us to be safe from threats from within as well as from without our republic.