President Barack Obama promised to make reducing gun violence a top priority of his second term in the White House, but he didn't sign any substantive legislation placing new restrictions on guns or gun owners.
Obama did, however, issue 23 executive actions designed to address gun violence in the United States after several mass shootings occurred during his first term. The most significant proposals called for universal background checks on anyone trying to buy a gun, restoring a ban on military-style assault weapons, and cracking down on straw purchases.
"I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality," Obama said at a Jan. 26, 2013, news conference at the White House.
Criticism of Obama Executive Actions on Gun Violence
Most of the executive actions proposed by Obama carried no legal weight, and many of them were criticized by gun-control advocates as being watered down and relatively inconsequential. The president could have used his executive powers, for example, to crack down on assault-style weapons imported into the United States.
Rolling Stone magazine described Obama's 23 executive actions as a "good start" but added quickly that the president "left his biggest regulatory weapon in the holster." The National Review Online pointed out that many national media outlets mistakenly referred to the executive actions as executive orders, given many readers the impression that Obama had in fact implemented some very substantive measures.
"The reality is President Obama hasn’t done much of anything," the National Review Online opined.
As New York magazine put it: "An executive action is a vague term that can refer to anything done by the executive (the president). Some of the items on the White House's list of 23 'executive actions' — such as "Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health" and 'Nominate an ATF director' — are more like personal priorities."
Nonetheless, many gun-rights advocates saw the president's executive actions on gun violence as an abuse of power and an attempt to sidestep the will of Congress on a controversial issue it was unwilling to take up.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who is considered a potential presidential candidate in the 2016 election, said Obama was "abusing his power by imposing his policies via executive fiat instead of allowing them to be debated in Congress."
Obama, in fact, did no such thing.
List of 23 Executive Actions on Gun Violence
Here are Obama's executive actions on gun violence:
- Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
- Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
- Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
- Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
- Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
- Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
- Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
- Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
- Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
- Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
- Nominate an ATF director.
- Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
- Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
- Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
- Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
- Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
- Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
- Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
- Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
- Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
- Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
- Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
- Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
Status of 23 Executive Actions
Six months after Obama announced his 23 executive actions, Vice President Joe Biden announced the administration had completed two and "made significant progress" on others. The two it had completed were the issuance of guidance to schools, colleges and ministries on how to plan with first responders for emergencies, and providing expanded access to federal training to police officers, medical technicians and schools.