Hillary Clinton gun plan: Is it feasible?

Hillary Clinton said on Monday that if elected, she would use executive action to expand background checks for gun purchases. It could be a demonstration of how to circumvent Congress by using assertive presidential power.

Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a town hall meeting at the Manchester Community College on October 5, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Clinton spoke about the need for gun control on the wake of a mass shooting at another community college in Oregon.

Hillary Clinton’s new gun control proposal might do more than tighten restrictions on firearm sales. It could also be a demonstration of how to circumvent Congress by using assertive presidential power.

That’s because Mrs. Clinton said on Monday that if elected, she would use executive action to expand background checks for gun purchases. Under current federal law, such checks are required for sales through licensed gun stores, but not for private party sales, sometimes made at gun shows or over the Internet.

“If Congress refuses to act to end this epidemic of gun violence, I’ll take administration action to do so,” tweeted Clinton after announcing her plan at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

Gun control and gun rights issues have long been among the most emotional and contentious items on Washington’s agenda.

Anti-gun advocates are frustrated that mass shootings such as last week’s tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., don’t lead to political action tightening gun access. Gun rights advocates say there is no evidence most proposals would halt such shootings – and that tighter gun controls could lead to firearms registration or more drastic government action that impinges on Second Amendment gun ownership rights.

In a Congress already polarized between the parties, that sort of argument inevitably produces gridlock of the first order. Clinton, as a longtime proponent of gun controls, is looking for a way around that legislative jam.

Not incidentally, the former secretary of State is also looking for a way to stand out politically on guns. That applies to her primary fight against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as well as a possible general election campaign against a GOP nominee. Guns are one issue on which Clinton is well to the left of Senator Sanders.

Unmarried women, African-Americans, and Hispanics – all core Democratic constituencies – have among the lowest rates of gun ownership in America. Only 13 percent of non-married women own firearms, for example, wrote Cook Political Report national editor Amy Walter in 2013.

“[T]he political profile of a ... non-gun owner looks a lot like a Democratic voter,” Ms. Walter wrote.

Clinton’s proposal to use the power of the presidency to move the gun issue may thus be an attempt to cement her appeal to her base, while undercutting Sanders.

As to substance, the executive action that Clinton is pushing would redefine any private party who sells a significant number of guns as being “in the business” of retailing firearms. That would put them on the same legal footing as gun stores, notes Clinton’s white paper on the subject.

Right now, private parties can sell guns to in-state customers who they have no reason to believe aren’t eligible for gun ownership without conducting a background check. Many of these sales occur at or near gun shows, or over the Internet. They’ve long been a target of gun control groups.

Clinton’s plan would also close the so-called Charleston loophole, which allows a gun sale to proceed without a background check if that federal check isn’t completed in three days. More than 2,500 gun purchases that otherwise would have been prohibited were completed last year because of this loophole, according to the Clinton campaign. This move would require congressional legislation, however, which makes it much less likely to occur.

Clinton also wants to repeal the law that bans crime victims from suing gun manufacturers – another item that would require legislative action.

One final point on Clinton’s background check proposal: If it’s really that easy, why hasn’t the current Democratic president done it? President Obama has not been shy about pushing the boundaries of executive branch power in the area of immigration, after all. And he's previously taken executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence. One would think he would be eager to unilaterally redefine active private-party sellers as gun dealers.

“Is Obama, who has been visibly frustrated by government inaction, thinking of undertaking such an executive action?” writes left-leaning Greg Sargent on his "Plum Line" blog at The Washington Post. “Will Clinton’s public vow to undertake such action raise the pressure on the administration to do the same?”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Hillary Clinton gun plan: Is it feasible?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today