As Vice President Biden prepares to hand in a set of recommendations to curb gun violence next week and pro-gun groups dig in their heels, the vice president has put in play the possibility of using executive action to get controversial gun control measures on the books.
Analysts and political scholars tell FoxNews.com that if the president goes through with his threat to circumvent Congress and issue executive orders, he is likely to face an expensive uphill legal battle – on the taxpayers’ dime.
But while pro-gun lobbyists have vowed to challenge President Obama’s constitutional authority on the issue, that doesn’t mean the president won’t attempt executive action. A unilateral move to ban assault weapons could be legally perilous, but analysts say there are other measures the president could at least attempt.
“Much of what the Obama administration can get done will depend on” how far they try to stretch the bounds of executive power, law professor David Prince told FoxNews.com.
In the past, the Obama administration has used executive orders, which have the force of law, to require gun dealers to report when customers buy multiple high-powered rifles and to increase penalties for violating gun laws.
A new order, nearly certain to face legal challenges, could seek to tighten enforcement of laws governing private sales of guns or to beef up background checks.
The White House has not given much guidance on what executive action Obama may consider, but analysts say the most likely items include a ban on high-capacity magazines. They also said the president could try to use his executive weight to track the sale and movement of weapons via a national database as well as impose stricter background checks on the mental health of prospective gun buyers.
Other measures could include forcing the Justice Department to go after people lying on their background check forms and making gun-trafficking a felony.
Legally, Obama can use his executive powers to act alone on some gun measures, but his more controversial options on the proposals opposed by well-funded, politically powerful advocates like the NRA are limited without Congress’ cooperation.
Prince said it would be easier to beef up laws already on the books but added that trying to get an assault-weapons ban to stick would be much harder. The federal assault-weapons ban, which prohibited the manufacturing for civilian use of 19 models of semi-automatic weapons, including shotguns and some rifles, passed in 1994 but expired in 2004. Because Congress – elected by the American public — let the ban expire, it would make it more difficult for the president to make a legal case to reinstate it.
Prince, a professor at the William Mitchell School of Law, said if Obama uses an executive order to ban assault weapons, it is likely the NRA will sue the government and the case could be tied up in the legal system for years.
Obama has pushed reducing gun violence to the top of his domestic agenda following December’s bloody rampage in a Connecticut elementary school with a legally purchased high-power rifle that left 20 children and six adults dead.