Meme-Busting: What, Exactly, Did Obama Do This Week Regarding Gun Policy?

Hint: He didn’t sign 23 executive orders

guns

Who got it wrong? According to Slate:

  • CNN: Brooke Baldwin, Carl Azuz, Wolf Blitzer
  • FOX News: Dana Perino, Neil Cavuto
  • NPR: Neal Conan
  • Slate: David Weigel

But that list is incomplete. Here are more media outlets that either claimed President Obama had signed 23 executive orders or that referred to any signing action on Wednesday as an executive order:

You won’t find any executive orders dated this week on the WhiteHouse website .

What you will find are presidential — or executive — actions. Action: to do something. Executive order: official, consecutively-numbered, legally-binding directives to federal administrative agencies usually designed to “implement congressionally-established law.”

And this week President Obama talked about 23 actions. Not 23 executive orders.

What he signed were three executive memoranda, documents that direct his executive agencies to do certain things.

  1. Presidential Memorandum — Engaging in Public Health Research on the Causes and Prevention of Gun Violence
  2. Presidential Memorandum — Improving Availability of Relevant Executive Branch Records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System
  3. Presidential Memorandum — Tracing of Firearms in Connection with Criminal Investigations

I ask you: do any of these measures sound like they are an infringement on the Second Amendment?

I don’t think you can look at them honestly and answer that question with any word other than “no.”

And no one (except Slate) has corrected these oh-so-very-easy-to-edit stories or headlines.

Now, as to the misinformation that led to tweets like this and Congressional calls for impeachment.

  • Did Obama ban “military-style assault weapons”? No.
    Did he call on Congress to try to fashion such a law? Yes.
  • Did Obama limit magazines to 10 rounds? No.
    Did he call on Congress to try to fashion such a law? Yes.
  • Did Obama ban armor-piercing bullets? No.
    Did he call on Congress to try to fashion such a law? Yes.

About that Memorandum On Research

Did you know … that Congress has limited CDC research on gun violence … since 1996? The Congressional ban was led by former Arkansas Republican U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey.

[T]he Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other scientific agencies have been barred by Congress from using funds to “advocate or promote gun control,” and some members of Congress have claimed this prohibition also bans the CDC from conducting any research on the causes of gun violence. However, research on gun violence is not advocacy; it is critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need. (page 8, pdf)

President Obama is directing the CDC to begin the research process with current dollars and is asking Congress to allocate $10 million for the CDC to investigate “the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.” Good luck on that one: the tech industry, Hollywood and the NRA will be in bed together in opposition.

But public health professionals applaud this initiative, as should anyone who, since Sandy Hook, has muttered “the problem isn’t guns, it’s our mental health system.”

The issue of gun violence is complex and deeply rooted, which is why we must take a comprehensive public health approach to ensuring our families and communities are safe. We must place a renewed emphasis on improving gun injury and violence research and expanding access to mental health services to those who most need it. Today’s proposal represents a real opportunity to make long-lasting progress on reducing gun violence. Congress must also get to work on real action.

The Obama Plan Regarding Gun Violence

The plan announced this week was the culmination of a fast-track task force led by Vice President Biden.

It held 22 meetings, most of them in the same week and many stretching past two hours, Biden furiously scribbling notes in a black leather-bound spiral notebook. The group collected ideas from 229 organizations — or, as Biden put it in a speech last week, “reviewing just about every idea that had been written up only to gather dust on the shelf of some agency.”

Here’s the plan. Read it (pdf). Contact your Senators and Representative about it.

But don’t keep saying he is making these things happen by circumventing Congress and the law.

Cause it ain’t true.

PS: Neither is the NRA ad about armed guards at the school attended by Obama’s daughters and NBC newsman David Gregory.

Updated: Slate has fixed their headline.

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  • zephyr

    I don’t cut the populace any slack when it comes to stupid and paranoid attitudes, but it sure doesn’t help when the media they depend on for information is so slipshod. Apparently they just copy each others inaccurate stories.

  • dduck

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/us/politics/biden-meets-with-house-democrats-on-gun-violence-proposals.html?_r=0
    “Obama Willing to Use Executive Orders on Gun”
    So I guess the venerable NYT, which I subscribe to, also added an element of confusion leading up to the “signing” on Wednesday.
    Oh, is this another snipe? :-)

  • http://wiredpen.com KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst

    Hi, zephyr – example of echo chamber reporting – although I understand from a friend that the press secretary misspoke re calling the memoranda executive orders. I was more annoyed with the “23″ v “3″ than memoranda v executive orders.

    DD – I started my search on Jan 16, which was the day of the news conference. There was LOTS of speculation and tossing around “executive order” prior to the 16th. Those do not count, they are quoting people who said “the president might use executive orders” they are not reporting. If you find something after the press conference that I missed – please share and I’ll add it to the list.

  • The_Ohioan

    No snipe since you used “venerable”. :-)

  • dduck

    KG, you can look and listen to Biden using executive order and action interchangably and in the same sentence on 1/9/2013, at about 4:34, here: http://uneditedpolitics.com/vice-president-joe-biden-press-briefing-after-nra-meeting-the-president-is-going-to-act-there-are-executive-orders-1913/

    I do think that the interchangeability of the action, order, memorandum is a little technical and overblown.
    BTW: several WH people have misused decimate to imply almost complete destruction of AQ, when the word decimate means 1/10. Just saying to your point that words can be misused and reported.

  • The_Ohioan

    What dd said.

    It’s like when people want Congress to declare an Act of War, instead of allowing the War Powers Act to stand, not realizing all the statutes – some quite drastic – that would be activated were war officially declared by Congress.

    There is probably some legal concern about using “terrorist” when officials are describing particular actions as well. We have so many laws and statutes, it’s doubtful any one person knows the ramifications of them all. Not that it would matter to those decrying “executive orders” even if they did understand the difference.

    Misspeaking in the modern electronic world is also more likely than when one had to sit and write a letter to state a position. But certainly reports should be as accurate as possible and it’s up to certified journalists (would that there were such a thing) to strive for that.

  • http://wiredpen.com KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst

    I do think that the interchangeability of the action, order, memorandum is a little technical and overblown.

    DD – please re-read my comment in response to your first one:

    I was more annoyed with the “23? v “3? than memoranda v executive orders.

    But it is a journalist’s job to be precise. And there is a helluva big difference between the three memoranda he signed and the list of 23 things, which include — you know — getting an ATF director in place. You really want to equate that — and the calls for legislation — the same thing as an executive order? REALLY?

  • http://wiredpen.com KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst

    And as a friend noted — it is ironic that the very people who are having a hissy-fit (that’s my momma speaking) about gun definitions are the very same people confusing executive orders (written, legal, numbered documents) with “actions”.

  • dduck

    “are the very same people confusing executive orders (written, legal, numbered documents) with “actions”.
    And, verbally, like Biden, whose remark was reported on, if you count MSNBC.

  • http://wiredpen.com KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst

    It appears as though the shift from executive orders to memoranda may have been precipitated by this legal opinion — dated Jan 29, 2000. That is, it is an opinion from Clinton’s presidency, and it notes that there is little if any legal distinction. http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/predirective.html

    And even though we may think of Bush-the-Younger as expanding presidential power, this document suggests Clinton wrote more Executive Orders. (And more than Nixon, fewer than Reagan.) But the big period for executive orders was Teddy (1,081) through Truman (907) with FDR at 3,522.
    http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php

    Note: Presidential memeoranda may or may not have been published in the federal record and are not numbered. Thus they are also NOT EASILY COUNTED.

  • http://wiredpen.com KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst

    DD – I’m going to say this one more time.

    Talking about what the President MIGHT do is not the same thing as talking about WHAT HE DID DO.

    I don’t give a fig what any politician said he might do before Jan 16. That’s soundbite haven for the base.

    I do care about reporters getting the story accurately — and if they screw it up, FIXING it. Like Slate did.

  • dduck

    Well, KG I do give a fig so please use your dates of choice if it helps make your “point”.
    And, you can can the “I’m going to say this one more time” meme, it is a little pedantic.