Executive Action Conflates Our Republicanism For Democracy

January 4th, 2016

Shortly before the President announced his new “executive action” on guns (more on that term later), he told the press:

“The good news is that these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they’re also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe in.”

The notion  that ideas which “overwhelming majority of the American people” support should become law conflates our republican form of government with a direct democracy. Just because an idea is supported by 51% of the populace doesn’t mean it becomes law. Our constitutional system of government has numerous mechanisms built in to prevent direct-democracy. Indeed this was viewed as a cardinal aim of our framers–how to halt unchecked factions from implementing their agendas. But beyond that, the President’s statement is terribly confused.

First, I reject the notion that an “overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe in” each of the seven executive actions I catalogued earlier. As I’m sure Ilya Somin can demonstrate, people are rationally ignorant about details of complex regulatory agenda. It took me nearly 30 minutes to make sense of the “Fact Sheet,” and I’m not entirely sure what these provisions mean. Additionally, even if a person tells a pollster she favors/opposes gun control, that says very little about the sorts of specific proposals the President announced today.

Second, despite what certain elite segments of society will tell you, gun control is simply not a particularly important issue for the American populace. A Gallup survey released today shows that the most important problems facing the U.S is government itself (16%), the economy (13%), unemployment (8%), immigration (8%), and healthcare (6%). Guns control is all the way at the bottom with 2%, right below “environment/pollution” (consider how high-priority the recent Climate Change conference in Paris is to most Americans?). Even if the President is correct that the people support his specific agenda–he’s not– it is such a low priority, that it is unsurprising Congress has not made any traction in this area.


To put this in terms of the Federalist, there are countless factions vying for the attention of the Legislative branch. Some want to focus on the economy. Others want to focus on immigration or health care. And somehow, through the miasma of Congress, some stuff makes it through. Stuff that doesn’t have enough support falls to the floor. The President’s use of executive action bypasses this process, and allows him to pursue those actions he likes, regardless of how important they are to the American people.

Third, as I demonstrated in The Shooting Cycle, although there is a spike in support of gun control after a mass killing, it quickly regresses to the mean.

The Gallup Poll confirms this trend:

Another issue that briefly spiked as a concern in 2015 was gun control, with mentions rising from near 1% most months to 7% in October and December following mass shootings that dominated the news.

At some point when things settle down, I will delve further into how “executive action” can alter the methods by which our countermajoritarian system operates.