Several Democrats running for president have promised aggressive action to stem the epidemic of gun violence if they win the White House in 2020, but executive action is unlikely to make a significant dent in the problem. Any steps the president takes unilaterally are likely to be embroiled in legal challenges, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The reality is it’s Congress that holds most of the power on gun policy. The executive branch has “limited discretion” on guns, says University of California Los Angeles law Prof. Adam Winkler. President Obama “looked at all these things and had a list of 20 executive actions. Even with 20 executive actions, it didn’t add up to much,” said Winkler. He calls the campaign promises “a way to energize Democratic voters.”
Democrats even a decade ago mostly avoided talking about guns, fearing it could alienate swing voters. The party’s 2020 presidential candidates are making a different calculation. Most in the primary field have advocated tightening restrictions on guns. The latest: former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has laid out a four-point plan to stop gun violence. The candidates downplay how much they would rely on Congress to achieve their goals. Much of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s expansive 2020 gun agenda — including the centerpiece, a universal federal gun licensing system — would require Congress to pass new legislation. Banning the sale of so-called assault weapons also would require a new law. As president, Sen. Kamala Harris of California would run into problems enforcing a near-universal background check requirement she promised. Harris has proposed categorizing anyone who sells five or more guns per year as a “gun dealer” for federal licensing purposes, triggering a background check on all their gun sales.