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Democratic leaders eye executive action on guns

Congressional Republicans want to ignore the so-called "fly-list loophole" on gun purchases, so Democrats are exploring plans to go around them.
A woman points a handgun with a laser sight on a wall display of other guns during the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 13, 2007, in St. Louis.
A woman points a handgun with a laser sight on a wall display of other guns during the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 13, 2007, in St. Louis.
The national debate over gun policy can get pretty intense, but there's one thing everyone can agree on: there's effectively no chance congressional Republicans are going to approve new reforms. There are GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, and at least for now, there's nothing anyone can say or do to sway them.
And with that in mind, if anything is going to happen on this issue, changes will have to be made through executive actions from the White House, governors' offices, or perhaps both. Yesterday, for example, as Rachel noted on last night's show, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) unveiled a policy banning gun sales to those on federal no-fly watch lists. The Associated Press reported:

The Democratic governor said that his order would make Connecticut the first state to do so and that state officials are working with the federal government to get access to the lists. "If you cannot fly due to being on a government watch list, you should not be able to purchase a firearm while on that watch list as well," Malloy told reporters at the Capitol. "This is basic common sense. The American people get it." [...] Malloy said the executive order would deny the issuing of gun permits, which may be appealed to a firearm review board.

The news out of Connecticut coincided with word from the White House that President Obama's team is "finalizing a proposal that would expand background checks on gun sales -- without congressional approval." White House press briefing on Thursday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday, "These are essentially recommendations that the president has asked for from his staff based on their review of available executive authority."
Without more information, it's obviously too soon to give the administration's pending order any real scrutiny, but Malloy's move in Connecticut is emblematic of where Democrats are headed on the issue. Party officials seem to recognize that as controversial as the gun debate can be, measures intended to prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns is the kind of idea the American mainstream will likely support.
It's precisely why House Democrats created a discharge petition this week to force a vote on closing the so-called "fly-list loophole," why Senate Democrats keep bringing the measure to the floor, and why governors like Dannel Malloy are making this such a priority.
What's more, congressional Republicans don't seem entirely comfortable defending their position that people on the no-fly list can't buy a plane ticket but they can buy an arsenal of deadly weapons. Asked for an explanation on this, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told reporters this week, "Talk to my office." Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) added, "Uh, Second Amendment."
But as the argument advances, it's worth keeping some relevant angles in mind. State-based action, for example, has its limits -- if Connecticut residents on an FBI watch-list finds they can't buy guns, there's nothing stopping them from simply driving to another nearby state.
As for federal action, critics argue that the no-fly list is an unreliable tool, filled with people who were added without due process. Those added to the list without cause often struggle mightily to convince officials to remove their names.
And those critics are largely right.
But that doesn't mean the status quo is tenable and policymakers should just throw up their arms and focus attention elsewhere. If policymakers want to take steps to block suspected terrorists from buying guns, they can have a debate and explore alternatives. If the no-fly list is flawed, lawmakers can consider reforms, such as expanding an appeals process, as some Democrats are proposing.
Right now, however, Republican officials have effectively adopted an "oh well" attitude to the fact that it's easier for list members to buy a gun than a plane ticket. It's hard to blame critics for thinking this is an unacceptable posture.