Donald Trump says he “heard” that President Obama “is thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away,” claiming that he “read it in the papers.” None of the major newspapers in the country has reported that.
Here are the facts: The Washington Post reported that Obama is considering an executive order that would expand the number of gun sellers required to subject buyers to background checks. Such an action wouldn’t take anyone’s guns away.
And — separately — in the wake of mass shootings, Obama has mentioned Australia’s legislation on gun control, which did involve taking away some guns. But Obama has not indicated, nor has any major media outlet suggested, that he is even considering an executive order that involves confiscating guns.
Trump initially made the claim during a rally in Anderson, South Carolina (starting at the 1:23 mark).
Trump, Oct. 19: You know, the president is thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away. You hear this one? This is the new. Not gonna happen. That won’t happen. But that’s a tough one, I think that’s a tough one for him to do when you actually have the Second Amendment. That’s tough. Because there’s plenty of executive orders being signed, you know that. And we can’t let that go on. So it’ll all stop … It’ll stop very soon, I think, because people are tired of what’s going on, and they’re tired of what’s happening to our country.
The following day on CNN’s “New Day,” host Alisyn Camerota challenged Trump on that claim, saying that Obama had signed no such executive order. Trump said he’d only heard that Obama was “thinking about it,” and he cited “the papers” as his source (starting at the 3:24 mark).
Trump, Oct. 20: No, no. I’ve heard that he wants to. And I heard it, I think, on your network. Somebody said that that’s what he’s thinking about. I didn’t say he’s signing it. I said I think that would be a tough one to sign actually.
Camerota: Yes, it’s impossible, in fact.
Trump: Yeah, I would say it would be impossible. But nevertheless he was thinking about it. And I’ve heard it from numerous networks. And I’ve read it in the papers. You know. My source is the papers. So, they’re pretty good sources.
We reached out to Trump’s campaign to find out what news stories he was referring to, but we did not hear back. So we scoured the news archives in Nexis of all major newspapers in the country, as well as CNN, and found only one recent story related to Obama and executive orders regarding guns. It was an Oct. 8 story in the Washington Post that ran under the headline “Obama weighs expanding background checks through executive authority.“
The story cites an unnamed “senior administration official” who said the White House is mulling an executive order that would require private gun dealers who sell a large number of guns to conduct background checks on buyers. Already, those “engaged in the business” of firearms dealing are required to be federally licensed, and must then subject buyers to background checks. But the law exempts any person “who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”
According to the Washington Post, the White House considered an executive order in 2013 that would broaden the definition of those “engaged in the business” of firearms dealing to include those who sell at least 50 guns annually. The proposal died, however, because some federal lawyers and officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives feared it would be difficult to enforce and would be vulnerable to a court challenge.
But even if such an executive action were proposed, it would be a far cry from seeking to “take your guns away,” as Trump put it. Such an order would expand background checks to more purchases, and some gun rights advocates might argue that it would restrict access to gun sales. But again, that’s much different from taking someone’s guns away.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Oct. 20, Sam Clovis, Trump’s campaign co-chair, shed a bit more light on what Trump may have been talking about. Clovis said Trump’s claim was related to Obama’s praise for strict gun laws initiated in Australia and the United Kingdom (at the 1:48 mark).
Clovis, Oct. 20: [Obama] would like very much … your network in fact has reported that he’s spoken about having a model in America much like that in the United Kingdom and in Australia. And that, to me, leads us then to confiscations of guns. And Australia has talked about confiscating, and has confiscated, guns. And frankly, it hasn’t worked out for them. So from that perspective, that’s exactly where we’re headed if the president has his way.
Obama has, in fact, referenced Australia as an example of a country that dealt with mass shootings by enacting tougher gun laws. After a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, Australia instituted major federal changes to its gun laws, including banning certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns; requiring nationwide registration for gun ownership; and requiring a 28-day waiting period. Permits for gun ownership were only allowed for a “genuine reason,” such as hunting, but specifically not for “personal protection.” The law included a one-year amnesty for prohibited weapons and a buyback program in which the government purchased 640,000 prohibited firearms. After the amnesty, prohibited guns were deemed illegal. So in that sense, the Australian government did take some guns away.
Here’s how Obama put it in a Tumblr Q&A on June 11, 2014 (at the 1:07 mark).
Obama, June 11, 2014: Couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting, similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, well, that’s it, we’re not doing, we’re not seeing that again, and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.
Obama said the country “has to do some soul-searching about this.” But Obama also made it clear he was not calling for similar laws in the U.S., but was advocating more modest changes related to background checks. Big changes will only come, he said, if public opinion demands “change in Congress.”
Obama: Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country on earth that would put up with this. Now we have a different tradition. We have a Second Amendment. We have historically respected gun rights. I respect gun rights. But the idea that, for example, we couldn’t even get a background check bill in, to make sure that if you’re going to buy a weapon you have to actually go through a fairly rigorous process so that we know who you are, so that you can’t just walk up to a store and buy a semi-automatic weapon. It makes no sense.
In a podcast interview with Marc Maron several days later, Obama again referenced the Australian gun policy (at the 17:06 mark).
Obama, June 22, 2014: This doesn’t happen with this kind of frequency in other countries. When Australia had a mass killing — I think it was in Tasmania about 25 years ago — it was just so shocking to the system, the entire country said, “Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws.” And they did. And it hasn’t happened since.
But that’s not all Obama said on the subject that day. Maron asked Obama about those who would say, “They’re gonna come for our guns.” Obama said that wasn’t happening in the United States, though he was vague about what kinds of sweeping changes he might ultimately support. And he said any major changes would have to come through Congress.
Obama: Well, in fact, typically right after Newtown happened, for example, gun sales shot up. And ammunition shot up. And each time that these events occur, ironically, gun manufacturers make out like bandits, partly because of this fear that’s churned up that the federal government and the black helicopters are all coming to get your guns. And part of my argument is that it is important for folks to understand how hunting and sportsmanship around firearms is really important to a lot of people. And it’s part of how they grew up. Part of the bonding they had with their dad. It evokes all kinds of memories and traditions. And I think you have to be respectful of that.
The question is just, is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common sense stuff that prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something or confused about something, or is racist or is deranged, from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing, and can do enormous harm. And that is not something that we have ever fully come to terms with. Unfortunately, the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong. I don’t foresee any legislative action being taken in this Congress. And I don’t foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and they say to themselves, “This is not normal. This is something that we can change, and we’re going to change it.” And if you don’t have that kind of public and voter pressure, then it’s not going to change from the inside.
More recently, in the wake of the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Obama referenced the gun control policies of Australia and Great Britain.
Obama, Oct. 1: We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.
A Library of Congress report notes that Great Britain has “some of the most stringent gun control laws in the world.” Handguns are prohibited without special permission, which requires the owner to demonstrate a good reason for possession — and self-defense is not considered a good reason.
But Obama did not advocate similar policies in the U.S.
Obama, Oct. 1: This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. … So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.
Nor did Obama suggest he was considering sweeping unilateral action, instead deferring to Congress to make any big changes.
Obama: Each time [a mass shooting] happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I’ve got to have a Congress and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.
That is consistent with Obama’s most aggressive push on gun control following the shootings in Newtown, in which a gunman shot and killed 20 students and six staff members. On Jan. 16, 2013, Obama announced that he would take 23 “executive actions,” including initiatives such as launching “a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign” and issuing a presidential memorandum “requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.”
But even as he announced those actions, Obama acknowledged the limit of his ability to affect major change in gun laws, and he said that “[t]o make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act — and Congress must act soon.” Obama called on Congress to pass legislation requiring universal background checks, including for sales at gun shows, and banning “military-style assault weapons” and large-capacity magazines. Proposals to ban assault weapons, regulate large-capacity magazines and expand background checks were all subsequently voted down in the Senate.
We should note that none of the sweeping changes proposed by Obama involved taking away anyone’s guns. The proposed ban on assault weapons, for example, which was proposed in an amendment introduced by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and supported by Obama, included a grandfather clause that would have exempted any weapons legally owned prior to the law’s passage, unlike the law in Australia. Feinstein’s amendment was rejected.
On Oct. 20, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Trump’s claim that Obama was working on an executive order to take people’s guns away.
Earnest replied, “Well, I think the president has made no bones about the fact that he’s prepared to use every element of his administrative authority to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But I think the president’s track record makes clear that he doesn’t just respect, but actually is willing to protect the basic Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. Those are just the facts about the president’s record. Those are the facts about the president’s priority. And we certainly would welcome others who share that common-sense view for making their voices heard.
“So,” the reporter followed, “Trump is lying or misinformed?”
“I have no idea what Donald Trump is doing,” Earnest said.
We can’t know what Obama is “thinking about,” but we can say that he has not advocated any kind of gun confiscation. He has referenced the Australian legislation that included the buyback of certain types of weapons (after which the weapons were deemed illegal) in the context of the U.S. public doing some “soul searching” on the issue of guns. But he has not proposed a unilateral executive order that would confiscate guns. Nor has any major media outlet reported such a thing, as Trump claimed.