Myths And Facts Surrounding President Obama's Executive Actions On Gun Violence

Leading up to and after the unveiling of President Obama's executive actions on gun violence, conservative media figures have made numerous misleading and false claims about them, including that they do not have popular support, will be ineffective, are unconstitutional, and will lead to mass gun confiscation.

FACT: Expanded Background Checks Are Overwhelmingly Popular With Gun Owners And The Public At Large

FACT: Background Checks Have Prevented Millions Of Dangerous And Prohibited People From Buying Guns

FACT: Constitutional Scholars Agree: Executive Actions Are “Consistent With Congressional Intent”

FACT: The Executive Actions Specifically Focus On Making Background Checks “More Efficient And Effective,” Not On Taking Away Guns From Those Who Have Them

Obama Announces Executive Actions To Address Gun Violence

Obama Expanded Background Checks And Announced Other Executive Actions In White House Speech. During a January 5 speech at the White House, Obama detailed his plan to use executive actions to expand background checks by clarifying the meaning of what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms and other provisions including increased mental health funding, improving the efficiency of the national background check system database, ensuring existing gun laws are enforced, and promoting the development of smart gun technology:

In a speech that veered from weepy to outraged and even comic, the president said his decision to exercise his executive authority -- a move that has infuriated many Republicans -- was an effort to prevent further violence and bring the country together on a divisive issue.

“I'm not on the ballot again; I'm not looking to score some points,” he said, adding later that it was possible to reconcile the Constitution with additional restrictions on firearms. “We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people.”

The package includes 10 provisions, White House officials said. One key provision would require more gun sellers -- especially those who do business on the Internet and at gun shows -- to be licensed and would force them to conduct background checks on potential buyers. Obama would devote $500 million more in federal funding to treating mental illness -- a move that could need congressional approval -- and require that firearms lost in transit between a manufacturer and a seller be reported to federal authorities.

At the president's direction, the FBI will begin hiring more than 230 additional examiners and other personnel to help process background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has established a new center to investigate illegal gun trafficking online and will devote $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. [The Washington Post, 1/5/16]

MYTH: Americans Do Not Support Background Checks

Fox's Ingraham: It's Been “Debunked” That Americans Overwhelmingly Support Background Checks. During a January 3 appearance on Fox News Sunday discussing Obama's executive actions, Laura Ingraham claimed, “The 90 percent statistic of all supporting background checks, that's been debunked. Lots of the myths about gun ownership are perpetrated by people who never much liked the Second Amendment in the first place, and who have a vested interest in amassing more power in Washington, D.C.” [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 1/3/16]

FACT: Expanded Background Checks Are Overwhelmingly Popular With Gun Owners And The Public At Large

PolitiFact Rated “True” The Claim 90 Percent Of Americans Support Background Checks On All Gun Sales. On October 5, 2015, PolitiFact found that "[p]olls continue to show a strong tilt in favor of background checks prior to all gun purchases," noting that the most recent polling “found 93 percent of adults in favor.” [PolitiFact, 10/5/15]

November 2015 Poll Found 83 Percent Of Gun Owners Support Background Checks For All Gun Sales. A November 2015 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found broad support for background checks on all gun sales across several demographics:

Overwhelming support for background checks: 83 percent of gun owners nationally support criminal background checks on all sales of firearms, while only 14 percent of gun owners oppose them. There is strong bipartisan agreement on the issue, with 90 percent of Democrat and 81 percent of Republican gun owners in support of background checks. Additionally, 72 percent of NRA members support them. A 2012 Frank Luntz survey of gun owners found that 82 percent were in favor of background checks, including 74 percent of gun owners. Despite well-funded efforts by the NRA and associated groups, support among both gun owners and NRA members remains high. [Center for American Progress, 11/17/15]

MYTH: Executive Actions Won't Prevent Gun Violence

Fox's Doocy: Obama's Executive Actions Would “Probably Not” Have Stopped Previous Shootings. During the January 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy said, “The big question is would any of the things that the president is going to do, would they have stopped any of the shootings we've seen in the past? So far, probably not.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/4/16]

NRO: Obama Did “Nothing Of Note To Advance His Agenda” With Executive Actions. National Review Online's Charles Cooke mocked Obama's proposed gun violence measures, arguing that they will do “noting of note” and that Obama “announced these initiatives for no other reason than to satisfy his burning desire to say that he did 'something' to advance gun control” :

Has Obama lost his mind? This is a man, remember, who is supposed to be admirably dispassionate; a man who is supposed to understand how the game is played; a man who is supposed to reflexively refuse to be taken in by the emotion of the moment. And yet he's going to use a good deal of his last year's political capital in order to tweak a few minor rules around the edges?

[...]

Even if he wins this round, he will have done precisely nothing of merit -- except perhaps to have pleased his base and to have convinced the most ignorant parts of the electorate that he has finally stuck his finger into the NRA's eye. Were these serious measures, I would be squealing. Instead, I'm amused. These are the dampest of squibs. Which is to say that Obama's behavior is not at all rational. As far as I can see, the president has announced these initiatives for no other reason than to satisfy his burning desire to say that he did “something” to advance gun control. That he in fact did nothing of note is neither here nor there. He needs the applause line -- both now, and in his retirement -- and he's determined to get it. When I say he did “nothing of note,” of course, I mean “nothing of note to advance his agenda.” As it happens, the president has done something “of note” tonight: He has hurt his own side. Were I a gun control advocate I'd be livid with him. Livid.

[...]

By his own account, Obama wants to reduce, not increase, the number of guns in circulation. If history is anything to go by, this action will do precisely the opposite. And for what? A minor change to the way in which firearms are sold on the private market? Obama has let his emotion get the better of him here. He and his fellow travelers will likely pay a price. [The National Review, 1/4/16]

Breitbart News: Expanded Background Checks “Would Not Have Stopped Any Recent Mass Shootings.” In a January 5 piece, Breitbart News' AWR Hawkins claimed that the expanded background checks “would not have stopped any recent mass shootings” and instead “destroy[]” “225 years of precedent” :

The controls expand background checks to cover more private sellers, although private sellers are not the source of guns used in mass shootings and high-profile shootings-the very kinds of incidents Obama claims he wants to reduce.

Every mass shooter and high profile shooter in recent memory-with the exception of those who stole their guns-bought their guns via background checks. For this reason, even the New York Daily News described Obama's pending background check expansion as “meaningless,” saying, “the last 15 mass killers all passed... background checks” to acquire firearms.

[...]

The expansion of background checks is an affront to freedom in general, because it brings private sellers under the purview of the government regardless of whether those sellers sell one gun a year or 100. Americans have been selling guns privately since 1791-that's 225 years-and now, with a swipe of his pen, Obama is saying a portion of those sales must be handled federally and conducted via background checks. [Breitbart News, 1/5/16]

FACT: Background Checks Have Prevented Millions Of Dangerous And Prohibited People From Buying Guns

The Background Check System Has Stopped More Than 2.1 Million Sales To Prohibited Persons Over The Past 20 Years. Even with loopholes such as the “gun show loophole,” the federal background check system has stopped more than 2.1 million prohibited sales since its inception, according to a report from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

More than 2.1 million illegal firearms sales -- including 1 million attempted purchases by convicted felons -- have been stopped in the 20 years since the enactment of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, according to a new report.

But the report released Friday by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence also stresses that millions of weapons are still being sold to buyers who are prohibited from owning them. Roughly 40 percent of gun purchases, including guns sold online and at gun shows by unlicensed sellers, are not subject to the background checks.

“It is clear Brady background checks work. Lives have been saved by the Brady law as we have seen the undeniable evidence showing gun homicides have decreased since the law took effect 20 years ago,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We need Congress to expand Brady background checks to make it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to get guns online, in classified advertisements or at gun shows.” [The Washington Post, 2/28/14]

Stronger Gun Laws Increase The Opportunity Cost For Dangerous People To Obtain Firearms, Causing Fewer Of Them To Successfully Do So. An August 2015 article in The Trace explained how research has proven that stronger background check laws deter prohibited people from being able to obtain firearms:

Further research has revealed background checks in particular are effective at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and saving lives.

Before the Brady Act was passed in 1993, 32 states had no background check requirements of their own, making it easy for criminals to obtain firearms through licensed retailers. One obvious way we can be sure the law removed a previously attractive avenue for criminals to obtain guns is to note that criminals continued trying to secure firearms from federally licensed retailers after background checks came online. Following the passage of the Brady Act, Georgia saw 9.4 percent of its firearm applications by prohibited persons in 1996, and several other states recorded denial rates around 4 percent. Each of those rejected purchases represents a dangerous person who would have easily been able to easily buy a gun before the background check system went into effect.

[...]

The strongest and most recent evidence on the efficacy of background checks thwarting criminals comes from two studies conducted by Dr. Daniel Webster at the Center for Gun Policy at Johns Hopkins University, which show the effectiveness of so called “permit to purchase” laws on reducing criminal access to firearms. The first study evaluated the repeal of a 2007 Missouri law that had required showing a permit, contingent on passing a background check, prior to obtaining a firearm. The repeal of this law was associated with a spike in the murder rate by 14 percent through 2012 -- “an additional 49 to 68 murders per year.” Furthermore, the study found strong evidence that the permit requirement had also been keeping neighboring states safe from gun trafficking. After its repeal, crime guns found in neighboring states traced back to Missouri increased significantly.

The second study examined a similar permit requirement passed in Connecticut in 1995. It looked at homicide rates in Connecticut ten years after the passage of the law, and compared that rate with what would be expected had Connecticut not passed the law at all. The study found a 40 percent reduction in the state's firearm-related homicide rate. Just as importantly, Connecticut did not experience a concomitant increase in homicide by other means -- in other words, criminals did not switch to using some other weapon to commit murder when they failed to get their hands on a firearm. Gun advocates often dismiss the potential of any gun law, arguing that killers will just kill some other way -- that is, if a criminal is sufficiently motivated to carry out a homicide, he's going to do it irrespective of whether or not he has access to a gun. The study proves that this so-called “substitution effect” doesn't occur.

[...]

The only coherent interpretation of all of these studies is that when a well-designed gun policy effectively decreases dangerous people's access to firearms, it also decreases crime. To put it more plainly: the laws work. If it was simply the case that criminals don't follow laws, and that they would find some way to commit a crime irrespective of the legal obstacles in front of them, then there should be no difference between any of the groups examined in the studies above. [The Trace, 9/8/15]

MYTH: The Executive Actions Are Unconstitutional

Fox Guest Suggests Obama's Impending Executive Actions Are “Unconstitutional,” Dictatorial. On the January 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, guest J. Christian Adams criticized Obama's upcoming executive actions, claiming, "[i]t's simply unconstitutional to stop people from buying guns if the government puts you on a list," adding that the U.S. is “not a dictatorship. He can't issue edicts” :

J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS: The problem is that this is a constitutional republic. The president doesn't seem to like that. He doesn't seem to like the fact that Congress has the authority to decide what to do, and Congress for years has rejected requiring private transactions to be subject to a background check or using the no-fly list to stop people from getting guns. That isn't the way this country works. It's not a dictatorship. He can't issue edicts, no matter how smart the lawyers are at the Justice Department who justify it. It's simply unconstitutional to stop people from buying guns if the government puts you on a list. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/4/16]

Fox's Kennedy Suggests Obama Is “Cherry-Pick[ing]” From The Constitution With Executive Actions. During the January 4 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery lamented, “I wish this president would sit down and actually read the Constitution,” suggesting that Obama was “tinker[ing] with the Constitution and cherry-pick[ing] amendments that [he doesn't] like” :

LISA KENNEDY MONTGOMERY: If [Obama's] not going to make it a political issue and he's not going to take the political fight to Congress, which then makes it a very visible national issue. I think he knows it's going to be sent to the courts, he knows it essentially delays the issue long enough that he does make it more of a legacy box checking as you said. I wish this president would sit down and actually read the Constitution. Because if you think of the ways that presidents can tinker with the Constitution and cherry-pick amendments that they don't like and go around them and back-door their influence, it's really kind of frightening, not just for this administration, but administrations to follow. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 1/4/16]

Fox's Napolitano: Obama “Absolutely Can't” Define Sellers For Background Checks. During the January 5 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed that Obama “absolutely can't” define who is a gun seller and “who must therefore get a federal license and therefore must perform a background check,” and argued that “the president cannot change the law, no matter how noble his motivation may be” :

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: But here's what he wants to do that he absolutely can't. He wants to define a person who sells two or more guns in a year as a gun seller who must therefore get a federal license and must therefore [[must]] perform a background check on everyone to whom they sell guns. So we're not talking about a person who does this for a living.

STEVE DOOCY (HOST): Right.

NAPOLITANO: We're talking about you selling it to me.

DOOCY: It might be a guy on eBay.

NAPOLITANO: Exactly. Exactly. Now what's wrong with requiring that person to get a license and perform a background search?

DOOCY: Right.

NAPOLITANO: Congress has said no three times. Congress has said no.

DOOCY: A bipartisan Congress.

NAPOLITANO: Correct. So the president cannot change the law, no matter how noble his motivation may be and he knows that. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/5/16]

Laura Ingraham: Obama's Actions Are A “Completely Illegal ... Abuse Of Power.” During the January 5 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show, radio host Laura Ingraham challenged the constitutionality of Obama's executive actions, calling them “completely illegal,” saying that “states have the latitude of when to require background checks at certain gun shows,” not the president:

LAURA INGRAHAM: The Obama gun desperate grab today --

PRODUCER: Ugh.

INGRAHAM: -- which he's going to announce at noon. By the way, Internet sales were through the roof yesterday because now people are worried.

PRODUCER: Of course.

INGRAHAM: If you can buy a gun right now before noon you should go ahead and just -- I don't even understand why people have to follow this executive order, frankly. It seems to be completely illegal, an abuse of power, unconstitutional, and just because Obama signs a piece of paper I don't understand why this suddenly has the force of law when it's not a law. So suddenly he can change the laws that are in place about gun shows without Congress. The law is in place on gun shows- it's basically states have the latitude of when to require background checks at certain gun shows. Some states are much more stringent than others. Some gun shows have checks. Some don't have as many checks. But none of this has anything to do with stopping violence. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 1/5/16]

FACT: Constitutional Scholars Agree: Executive Actions Are “Consistent With Congressional Intent”

Constitutional Law Scholars Explained Background Checks Can Be Constitutionally Expanded Through Executive Action. On November 12, 2015, 23 constitutional law scholars organized by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy issued a statement urging the president to “clarify[] which gun sellers are 'engaged in the business' of dealing firearms, and therefore must obtain federal licenses and conduct background checks on would-be gun purchasers,” explaining that such an executive action was “within the Administration's power” and “would ensure the federal gun laws are applied consistent with congressional intent” :

We do not purport to offer here a comprehensive list of all actions that the Administration might take to reduce gun violence. But we do highlight several important actions within the Administration's power that would ensure the federal gun laws are applied consistent with congressional intent. Among these steps are:

Clarifying which gun sellers are “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms, and therefore must obtain federal licenses and conduct background checks on would-be gun purchasers. Just as services like eBay and Craigslist allow Americans to offer a broad range of goods for sale online, numerous Internet services facilitate the sale of large numbers of firearms by unlicensed dealers, frequently without conducting any background checks. The failure of these high-volume sellers to obtain licenses and conduct background checks creates a ready source of firearms for dangerous criminals and other prohibited persons, and fuels the illegal gun trafficking that arms criminals and undermines efforts to reduce gun violence. The Administration should act to close this dangerous loophole. [American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, 11/12/15]

Former Task Force On Firearms Research Director: Expanded Background Checks Proposed By Obama “Consistent” With Executive Capacity And Responsibility. Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a former director of research for the Task Force on Firearms of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, told The Washington Post that Obama's proposal to expand background checks is “certainly consistent with the capacity and responsibility of the executive branch of government to make legislative standards coherent and clear” :

Dealer and “engaged in the business” are “terms of art,” Zimring said. “The legislative enactments that they're organized to express are compromises,” attempts to sketch a light line in that murky middle. What Obama is trying to do is to move that line determining who is a dealer, shifting where that compromise has been understood to lie.

“It is certainly consistent with the capacity and responsibility of the executive branch of government to make legislative standards coherent and clear,” Zimring said. Obama is “trying to make it coherent and clear -- and give it more reach.” The president's recent actions on immigration involve refocusing where law enforcement directs its energy. This executive action, in Zimring's assessment, is less complicated. [The Washington Post, 1/5/16]

MYTH: Executive Actions Will Target Legal Gun Ownership And Lead To Gun Confiscation

Fox's Bolling: Obama's Executive Action Will “Open The Door” To A “Floodwater” Of Gun Regulations. During the January 4 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling criticized Obama's gun executive orders and warned they could lead to more gun regulations, saying, “This is how it starts. You open the door and then who knows how much floodwater comes flying through.” [Fox News, The Five, 1/4/16]

Fox's Ingraham: Obama Trying To Create “Government Database Of Gun Owners” With Executive Actions. During the January 5 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham claimed Obama's executive actions are “about eroding individual liberty” and “perhaps amassing, ultimately, a government database of gun owners in the United States” :

LAURA INGRAHAM: Well, number one, it has nothing to do with preventing gun violence. It has everything to do with amassing more power in Washington, D.C. It has nothing to do with stopping the next Sandy Hook, or the next San Bernardino. If we cared about guns, and gun violence, we would have sealed off the border, we wouldn't be doing things like Fast and Furious, selling guns, illegal guns to criminals as we did in the Obama Justice Department. So this is all a big charade. It's all about amassing power, and perhaps amassing, ultimately, a government database of gun owners in the United States. So they want to prevent people from transferring private sales, transferring guns. Is that going to stop any crime? Of course it's not. Look at what's happening in Chicago. We have 50 more murders in Chicago from 2014 to 2015, one of the toughest background checks, strict controls in Chicago. None of it matters. So this is not about stopping violence. This is about eroding individual liberty, and amassing more power in the hands of government bureaucrats, period. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/5/16]

Breitbart News: Executive Actions Will Result In “Gun Registry Database. On January 5 Breitbart News' Awr Hawkins claimed the executive actions were a “not-so-subtle slide toward universal background checks” and “will eventually require a gun registry database in order to be enforceable.” [Breitbart News, 1/5/16]

Fox's Kooiman: Obama's Executive Actions “Threaten[]” The Second Amendment. On the January 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, host Anna Kooiman claimed that gun sales were rising in response to Obama's executive actions because “Americans want to take their own personal security into their own hands ... when the Second Amendment is threatened” :

STEVE DOOCY (HOST): Yesterday the news of the day was the fact that the president of the United States may come out with an executive order regarding guns. He's going to come out with it later today. What did that do to gun sales?

NICOLE PETALLIDES: Well, what we've seen with the gun sales overall, first of all, 2015 moves into records. You had over 23 million background checks, right? That even exceeded the 2013 numbers. Everybody is running to buy guns for two reasons. One, we've had shooting incidents in San Bernardino, you had Paris, you had all those school incidents. So there's fear and overregulation, new gun laws and so we're seeing sales and background checks moving to records. These stocks soared in 2015. Smith & Wesson was up 132 percent last year and gained yesterday, Anna, almost six percent. Sturm, Ruger, that was another winner. It was up 72 percent last year and guess what? Gained again yesterday. And they're looking higher again today. You might even see a record high for Smith & Wesson today.

ANNA KOOIMAN (HOST): And not surprising Americans want to take their own personal security into their own hands. Thank you so much, Nicole Petallides. When the Second Amendment is threatened. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/5/16]

Rush Limbaugh: “The Left” Is “Talking About Removing Guns From The Hands Of Innocent People” With Executive Actions. On the January 4 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Rush Limbaugh claimed that with Obama's executive actions “the left isn't talking about crime. They're talking about removing guns from the hands of innocent people” :

RUSH LIMBAUGH: By definition gun control will not stop crime. And that's what we're talking about, but no the left isn't talking about crime. They're talking about removing guns from the hands of innocent people, which is the only thing they'll be able to accomplish. They're not going to be able to get the hands of criminals to turn over their guns to them. They can pass law after law after law and by definition people that want to get guns illegally are going to break those laws, whatever they are, to get them, and everybody understands this. So the objective here isn't to stop crime. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 1/4/16]

FACT: The Executive Actions Specifically Focused On Making Background Checks “More Efficient And Effective,” Not On Taking Away Guns From Those Who Have Them

White House: Executive Actions Will Increase Cooperation Among Agencies And Specifically Target Dangerous Weapons. In a White House press release, the Obama administration outlined how the proposed measures will “make the background check system more efficient and effective” by increasing cooperation between different agencies and dedicating substantial resources toward updating the National Instant Criminal Background Check System's “outdated” system:

Clarify that it doesn't matter where you conduct your business--from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you're in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks. Background checks have been shown to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but too many gun sales--particularly online and at gun shows--occur without basic background checks. Today, the Administration took action to ensure that anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms is licensed and conducts background checks on their customers.

[...]

Require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust or corporation. The National Firearms Act imposes restrictions on sales of some of the most dangerous weapons, such as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. But because of outdated regulations, individuals have been able to avoid the background check requirement by applying to acquire these firearms and other items through trusts, corporations, and other legal entities. In fact, the number of these applications has increased significantly over the years--from fewer than 900 applications in the year 2000 to more than 90,000 applications in 2014. ATF is finalizing a rule that makes clear that people will no longer be able to avoid background checks by buying NFA guns and other items through a trust or corporation.

[...]

Make the background check system more efficient and effective. In 2015, NICS received more than 22.2 million background check requests, an average of more than 63,000 per day. By law, a gun dealer can complete a sale to a customer if the background check comes back clean or has taken more than three days to complete. But features of the current system, which was built in the 1990s, are outdated. [WhiteHouse.gov, The Office of the Press Secretary, 1/5/16]