Law professor explains power of executive order

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A local law professor says President Barack Obama’s executive order regarding guns appears to be within his legal authority.

Widener University Commonwealth Law School professor Michael Dimino says while Obama has come under scrutiny for his position on expanding gun laws, his use of executive power shouldn’t be mistaken for creating his own laws.

“What (the President) can do is say here is the laws that we have. I’m going to interpret these laws, and take the flexible parts of these laws, and try to read them in a way that gives me as much as I can get while still adhering to the current statutes,” Dimino said.

As an example, Dimino says Obama could look at a current statute that says gun dealers are required to do x, y and z, but if the definition of a “dealer” isn’t clearly spelled out in the law, it leaves an opening for further interpretation by the President. In that case, an executive order could lead to further regulations regarding the buying and selling of guns under the existing statute.

So far, Dimino says Obama’s executive order is vague and only initially calls for more studies and other preliminary measures before further changes could be made. At a later date, those specific measures to enhance the enforcement of existing gun laws and enhancement of background checks could be implemented.

Historically, Dimino says executive orders by other presidents have lasted for decades, such as JFK’s affirmative action. Others, such as President Truman’s federal seizure of the U.S. steel industry during the Korean War were almost immediately overturned by the Supreme Court.

Obama’s executive order on gun control is sure to be a topic of debate in the 2016 presidential election, and Dimino says if the courts do not intervene, the future of all previous standing executive orders will rest in the new president’s hands.

“They stay in place until they’re removed,” Dimino said.

While some lawmakers have already threatened to challenge the executive order on gun control in the courts, Dimino says he doesn’t expect a real challenge any time soon.

“Not at this stage,” he said. “Most of what the President announced doesn’t do anything.”

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