The Last Executive Order On Gun Control Wasn't All That Long Ago — But Not Much Changed

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a host of executive orders aimed at curbing gun violence, stating, "Maybe we can’t save everybody, but we can save some." Obama has made his desire to strengthen gun regulations very clear on many occasions, and this isn’t the first time he’s circumvented Congress to accomplish that goal. The last executive orders on gun violence were issued less than three years ago, and they weren’t even the first ones Obama signed during his presidency.

In December 2012, days after the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, Obama created a task force to outline possible ways to reduce gun violence. Headed by Vice President Joe Biden, the team came back a month later with legislative proposals, which would need to go through Congress, as well as 19 executive orders the president could sign without congressional consent.

Republicans in the Senate filibustered the legislation that Obama ultimately pushed for, but the president signed all 19 of those executive orders, as well as four more that were added at the last minute. Some were rather innocuous — "Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign,” for example — but others were more substantive. Many aimed at strengthening the federal background check system by making more data available to it. One order required federal law enforcement to trace firearms that it recovered during criminal investigations, while others mandated more research into the causes of and solutions for gun violence.

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Predictably, the GOP collectively set its hair on fire, ringing the familiar “Obama’s taking away your guns!” alarm. But the president wasn’t finished. In August 2013, the White House announced that Obama would be signing two more executive orders to supplement the previous slate of actions. The first one closed a loophole that allowed individuals to purchase guns through corporations or trusts without undergoing a federal background check, while the second almost entirely banned the re-importation of U.S. military weapons into the United States.

Congress’ stubborn refusal to pass any gun laws, even after something as horrific as Sandy Hook, has been an enormous source of frustration for Obama, and that frustration becomes more visible every time there’s another mass shooting in the United States. The executive orders that he issued Tuesday are his latest attempt at going around Congress — and if history is any guide, they may not be his last.