The Los Angeles Times today is reporting that President Biden plans “to take executive actions to reduce gun violence.” Another way to put it would be that Biden plans “to exercise dictatorial powers to reduce gun violence.”
In a representative democracy, the legislative branch of government enacts the laws and the executive branch of the government enforces them. In a totalitarian-like dictatorship, the ruler bypasses (or ignores or even abolishes) the legislature and simply issues decrees that have the force of law.
That’s what “executive actions” or “executive orders” are all about. Not wishing to wait for Congress to act, the president simply issues edicts that have the force of law.
A classic example of this phenomenon occurred during the military dictatorship of Chilean strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet. During his reign of power, he didn’t have to wait for the legislative branch of government to act. He simply issued orders, which were called “decree laws” because whatever he decreed automatically constituted the law.
The Constitution tried to protect the American people from dictatorial decrees. That was the idea behind the separation of powers. The Constitution set up a government in which Congress, not the president, would have the power to enact the laws. The president’s power would be limited to enforcing laws enacted by Congress.
Of course, this type of system doesn’t guarantee freedom. It’s entirely possible for Congress to enact laws that violate freedom. But it does serve as a protection of freedom by preventing the president from wielding the power of dictatorship — that is, the power to issue decree laws.
Unfortunately, Republicans lack moral standing to complain about any executive orders that Biden issues to clamp down on gun rights. That’s because when Donald Trump was president, he himself ruled through decree laws, with the full support of his conservative acolytes.
One example was when Congress denied Trump the funds he was requesting to build his Berlin Wall along the border. Trump simply issued a decree law that enabled him to divert funds that Congress had allocated to the Pentagon for military purposes to the construction of his wall.
Another example was the vicious and destructive trade war that Trump initiated against China. Trump didn’t wait for Congress to enact legislation that authorized the imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods. He just issued decree laws that imposed such tariffs.
Moreover, when American farmers began going broke as a result of his trade war with China, Trump simply issued decree laws establishing a welfare program for the farmers.
Thus, given the fact that they love a system of decree laws when they are in power, Republicans now lack standing when Biden starts doing it to them in order to restrict gun rights. It’s called getting hoisted on your petard. But whether it is a Democrat or Republican president issuing the decrees, freedom suffers.
A free society necessarily is one that bars any president from issuing and enforcing decree laws. As the Framers understood, while such a prohibition is not a sufficient guarantee of freedom, it is necessary prerequisite for freedom.