University of Wisconsin–Madison

Gun Control and Executive Power


On Jan. 16, 2013, many news outlets and advocacy groups reported that President Obama had issued 23 Executive Orders pertaining to gun control.  Skeptical of this claim, when it is the prerogative of Congress to legislate on such matters, I undertook the following review of executive actions that took place that day.

The results I found suggest there was not a single Executive Order issued on Jan. 16, 2013.  Of “executive actions,” though, there may very well have been 23.

Knowing that these results may be subject to differing opinions, the resources used for this review are listed below for your own examination –

1) White House Briefing Room – Presidential Actions – Executive Orders webpage:

2) White House Briefing Room – Presidential Actions – Presidential Memoranda webpage:

3) Compilation of Presidential Documents webpage:

4) The Obama’s Administration central policy document from Jan. 16, 2013 “Now Is The Time : The President’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence”:

5) various news outlets available online, such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal blog:

Forbes -

Wall Street Journal blog -

These two news sources were included for their summary of the 23 points that have now become part of the national debate on gun control.

Most of the so-called Executive Orders reported can be found in the Administration’s policy document “Now Is The Time” (see link 4 above).  The executive actions taken consist of calls to Congress for action, directives to various federal agencies such as the ATF, CPSC, CDC and DOJ to uphold the law presently on the books, as well as, a number of Presidential Memorandum (see link 2 above).  The Presidential Memorandum are to be published in the Federal Register, making them truly Executive Branch actions, but still short of being Executive Orders.

As such, the President is not legislating but pushing his agenda toward Congress.  In doing so, he is relying on allies and partners in Congress such as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to put forward concrete legislation for debate.  The Senator did just that by introducing S.150 a bill to regulate assault weapons on Jan. 24, 2013.  The bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary to which she is a member.

On Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, the Committee on the Judiciary has a hearing scheduled "What Should America Do About Gun Violence?"  Stay tuned.  We should be hearing much more on this subject.

Submitted by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian on January 29, 2013

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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