With President Obama now contemplating up to nineteen executive orders to combat gun violence, conservatives have started to flip out in characteristic form. Kentucky senator Rand Paul has accused Obama of acting “like a king or a monarch.” South Carolina congressman Jeff Duncan declared last week, “We live in a republic, not a dictatorship.” Mike Huckabee proclaimed that the White House has “nothing but contempt for the Constitution” and seeks to “trump … the checks and balances of power in which no branch could act unilaterally.” Texas congressman Steve Stockman has already threatened impeachment.
Obviously, gun rights are a pretty sensitive issue for many people, but a little perspective is in order. First of all, President Obama has no intention of banning assault weapons, or any other kind of gun, through executive order. Instead, according to the Times, he’s considering some pretty mundane tweaks that would seem to leave the “right to bear arms” fully intact:
Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort.
If it’s the use of executive orders in particular that’s getting critics all riled up, though, then it’s worth noting that Obama has used this lever of presidential power less frequently than every other president in modern times.
We’ve crunched the numbers, and as you can see in our handy graph, above, Obama has issued fewer executive orders per day in office than conservative heroes like George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Calvin Coolidge. In fact, you have to go all the way back to Grover Cleveland in the nineteenth century to find a president who has issued executive orders at a lower rate than Obama.
This isn’t to say that Obama hasn’t, in some cases, assumed a questionable amount of power as president (a “kill list” that includes American citizens, anyone?). But his use of executive orders is not one of those cases.