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President Obama's Missing Executive Order on Gun Control

The president's moves to curb gun violence are a good start, but he avoided one key measure

President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders about the administration's new gun law proposals.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
January 16, 2013 2:51 PM ET

In his renewed push for gun control, President Obama released 23 executive orders to reduce gun violence this morning. It's a good start. But Obama left his biggest regulatory weapon in the holster.

The president has, under existing law, the authority to block the import of weapons that aren't "generally recognized as particularly suitable for, or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." In the wake of the Stockton school massacre in 1989, President George H.W. Bush — who was backed to the hilt by the NRA at the time — used this authority to block the import of many semiautomatic weapons.

Those restrictions were relaxed under the George W. Bush administration. But as Tom Diaz, a former policy analyst for the Violence Policy Center, told NPR in the immediate wake of the Newtown massacre, the authority remains on the books:

One thing the president could do immediately without legislation, that he has the executive power to do, is direct the Justice Department to look at imports into the United States of specific kinds of guns . . . He could say to the Justice Department, which is now the home of ATF, take a look at these imports. Take a look at this standard for sporting purposes, and let's weed out the guns that don't meet that. That would have significant impact on assault rifles, including these assault pistols. It might also have an impact on guns like the FN57 that was used at Fort Hood, which by no definition, by the industry's own admission was primarily designed for counterterrorism use. This is something the president can do with a stroke of the pen.

That pen stroke is MIA today – and its absence is a testament to the continuing power of the gun lobby.

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