Bouncing the check on executive power

On Tuesday evening, President Obama announced his highly anticipated and similarly dreaded, plan for executive action on gun control. Surrounded by supporters as well as those whose lives have been touched by violence, the 44th president of the United States demonstrated not only disdain for the prevalence of gun crime in America, but also the Constitution and our system of checks and balances. Although he, along with his aides have repeatedly claimed that such actions are within the purview of his office, the assertion is dubious, and the precedent odious. 

Setting aside the fact that gun crimes have been cut in half despite a 300 percent increase in ownership over the past two decades, gun owners and second amendment supporters alike have been pilloried as demagogues who are turning their backs on the children killed in Newtown. This, the president asserted, is what legitimizes the actions he is now poised to take.

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Yet, to use this as a justification for executive overreach is to establish norms that once more expand the power of an increasingly autocratic behemoth. The founders never intended executive orders to be used in such a fashion, and indeed their presence in the constitution is non-existent. Alexander Hamilton in the 69th publication within the Federalist Papers outlined in great specificity the duties and limitations inherent to the office, and President Obama himself derided his predecessor for circumventing Congress. 

Admittedly, what is said on the campaign trail is seldom honored once an aspirant reaches the Oval Office.  However, here the incongruence is both stark and startling. If a man who campaigned on respecting the margins of the presidency can suddenly discard something so central to his platform without fear of condemnation, what of those who have demonstrated no such compunction to begin with? If hell froze over and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMother of soldier killed in Iraq: I was too 'in pain' to speak at convention Top Koch network adviser rejects Trump's talk of law and order Mark Cuban campaigns for Clinton in hometown of Pittsburgh MORE suddenly had his logo emblazoned upon the side of the White House, would this practice continue to be seen as benign? 

An executive order was once viewed as a tool of last resort which was limited in scope, but now it's a default answer to political stalemates, and its acceptability is ever broadening. The danger here, is that power is seldom relinquished once assumed, and aside from a select few candidates who have repudiated the practice such as Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulGreen party candidate: People have 'real questions' about vaccines What to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses MORE (R-Ky.), most have already begun to speak about what actions they might unilaterally take, should they reach 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

This has occurred on both sides of the political spectrum. For Democrats, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonInterim DNC chair to impose 'tough standards' after email leaks Mark Cuban campaigns for Clinton in hometown of Pittsburgh Trump campaign: Clinton visiting Pa. like robber visiting victim MORE has unabashedly embraced the concept and has said without hesitation that she would circumvent the Legislature in order to advance her agenda. Similarly for Republicans, candidates ranging from Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) to Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioFlorida: 'High likelihood' of first Zika transmission in the US Overnight Healthcare: Rubio presses Obama to spend Zika money | FDA moves ahead with trans fat ban The Trail 2016: Her big night MORE (R-Fla.), have all endorsed the option either explicitly or otherwise. 

The significance of this cannot be ignored. What once required the expenditure of political capital can now be obtained with the stroke of a pen and the codification of a decree. If this is allowed to become procedurally acceptable, there is no policy too grand or abuse too abhorrent which, with time, couldn't be a signature away from enactment. 

This isn't merely hyperbolic conjecture, indeed it's happened in the past and could well again.  From FDR's confiscation of gold bullion and the internment of the Japanese, to George W. Bush's evisceration of the Presidential Records Act, executive abuses have occurred repeatedly, irrespective of party affiliation. 

As such, the scorn for the legislative process must be put to rest, lest we enable untold transgressions yet to come. The only way through which to avoid such incidents in the future, is to actively confront them now. Whether one is an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment or an opponent to that thereof, we must unite in our objection to these edicts. One only need to imagine their most dreaded candidate's acquisition of such power, in order to realize the hazards of perpetuating this method. 

In Federalist #46, James Madison wrote that the "accumulation of all power, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." Though the current administration and its actions may not yet fit within that definition, the direction in which we are moving is certainly alarming. 

No matter how celebrated the idea or how necessary one may seem, no proposition is worth the risk that these proclamations pose to our population and our Republic at large. The whims of a president should never supplant a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and no amount of tears, sincere or otherwise, should ever convince us of the contrary.  

Morris is a libertarian activist and holds a masters’ degree in International Relations from the University of Oklahoma.

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