Sen. Kamala Harris said she planned to take gun control into her own hands if elected president, promising a slate of executive actions in a CNN town hall Monday night if Congress does not “get their act together” in a 100-day period to “pass reasonable gun safety laws.”
Harris’s plan, which she said would be one of her first acts as president if Congress doesn’t act, works to effectively go around Congress, using executive power to make strides on gun control in places where previous administrations have stalled.
Harris said she would mandate universal background checks on anyone selling more than five guns a year, ending a loophole that allows private gun sellers to bypass background checks on 1 in 5 gun sales nationwide, bar people classified as fugitives from buying guns. She would also, her campaign said, close a loophole in federal law that allows perpetrators of domestic violence to keep their guns if they are not married to their partner.
Harris’s plan, framed specifically around circumventing Congress through executive power, is a sign of an electorate that is weary of congressional inaction. Both President Donald Trump and former president Barack Obama turned increasingly to executive action to accomplish some of their signature policy proposals.
Obama, for his part, hit a dead end when he tried to get gun control measures, like an assault weapons ban, through Congress in the wake of mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“People are fed up with the inaction on this issue. They want it done already,” said Kris Brown, the president of Brady, a bipartisan gun control organization that does not endorse candidates.
Harris, Brown said, is “bypassing the stranglehold that a tiny minority of [Congress] members can exert to stop action on a measure that almost every American think is a good idea.”
In a memo outlining the plan to BuzzFeed News, Harris’s campaign said she would push to take gun manufacturers and dealers to court if they are negligent or break state and local laws. A 2005 federal law, the Protection of Commerce in Arms Act, has put up barriers to those kinds of civil lawsuits, but Harris’s campaign said she would work around that law.
Any attempt to use executive power to crack down on gun manufacturers and gun ownership would likely be met with legal challenges from the gun rights lobby. Trump’s attempts to ban the sale of bump stocks using executive power was swiftly challenged in court by bump stock owners and gun rights advocates, in a case that is set to go in front of the Supreme Court.