Total number of Obama executive orders on guns: Zero

President Obama signed executive actions on guns this week, not executive orders
President Obama signed executive actions on guns this week, not executive orders

If you followed the news this week on President Obama unveiling his new policy agenda on preventing gun violence, it’s likely you heard about the 23 new executive orders the president issued, which outraged many Republicans, leading some to even suggest impeachment.

There is, however, a small problem: Obama didn’t issue any executive orders.

In a piece highlighting many of the reporters who got this wrong, Dave Weigel fesses up and concedes he “muffed the terminology,” and I should note that I flubbed it, too.

Andrew Rudalevige sets the record straight.

“[E]xecutive order” is a term applied as shorthand to a variety of administrative directives by the president, but it is actually a specific and codified type of such directives. Indeed, the 23 things listed in the White House document (here) laying out the president’s gun control agenda are not executive orders. Presidents have other means of seeking to direct and govern actions by government officials, and executive orders (because they require various levels of review) are not always the most flexible or quickest choice.

Of the 23 actions on the Obama agenda, at least three deal with new or revised regulations (a process housed in the agencies). Two more require executive departments to publish letters or issue reports. One is a nomination (of an ATF director.) One is, at best, hugely vague (“maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence”). Three others, according to the White House website, are presidential memoranda – less formal and not always as well cataloged as executive orders; three or four more look like they could be done via memorandum as well, or via even less formal communication with the department involved.

My larger policy analysis was correct – the steps Obama took were modest, and the hysteria they generated from the right had no basis in reality – but the terminology matters. The president issued exactly zero executive orders on gun policy this week, no matter what you heard to the contrary.