Gun Control: Obama’s Last Gasp?

Barack Obama’s unilateral gun control decree, in spite of the supposedly historic nature of the event, is just the latest example of Democrats opting for a nanny state approach to every issue from gun safety to healthcare. Deciding once and for all that finding common ground with Congress is less gratifying than handing out rhetorical bludgeonings, the new gun control rules are the first round of a series of new executive orders the White House plans to roll out before Obama’s presidency goes into full lame duck status. Now that he has effectively changed the definition of the word “business” to force licenses on just about anyone who wants to sell a gun, the Obama team has its sights set on everything from nutrition to energy efficiency to e-cigarettes.

When it comes to ignoring the separation of powers and the Constitution’s limits on executive power, gun control isn’t the only playing field the Obama administration has tried to redraw. Over the past seven years, Democrats at the national level and blue state governors and lawmakers (in those states whose voters haven’t opted for Republicans since, at least) take their cues from the White House when it comes to legislating what people can do and which constitutional amendments they feel like respecting. In the run-up to Obama’s gun control move, Connecticut governor Daniel Malloy announced he was going to start making rules on his own, setting up the East Room announcement a couple weeks later (and earning Governor Malloy a great seat at the State of the Union).

Beyond gun control, Obama’s e-cigarette moves offer more insight into his belief that he knows what’s best for your health (personal freedoms be damned). The tax hikes in ObamaCare have been documented to death, but the Obamas have long been trying to tell Americans what they should eat and how they should live. The e-cigarette rules, for example, might end up costing manufacturers over $800 million and put the entire industry out to pasture. Obama started out creating new taxes for smokers early in his first term, upping excise taxes on traditional cigarettes by 156% in 2009. New York State took its cue from this approach in 2010, slapping a $4.35 tax on every pack. New York City, of course, decided that wasn’t high enough and added an extra $1.50 charge per pack. According to the usual liberal narrative, smokers should have seen the price tags on their Marlboros and started realizing the error of their ways -- even as the state government swam in new tax revenue.

In what should come as no surprise, astronomical cigarette taxes didn’t make New Yorkers healthier. What they did instead was create a black market overnight, as smokers realized they could pick up a pack for $4 in one of New York’s Indian nations (compared to $10.58 a half-mile up the street), or otherwise head across state lines. That imbalance has caused revenue from cigarettes sold in New York to drop by $400 million over five years, more than wiping out the temporary $250 million jump it saw after the tax went into effect. Beyond that, so many illegal cigarettes are being brought into New York that the state is also losing $1.3 billion every year on uncollected taxes.  Of course, if the taxes weren’t so high, there wouldn’t be so many smuggled packs being sold in the first place.

Overdone taxes are bad enough, but the illegal sales that directly result from them offer a built-in funding opportunity for much more serious threats. In 2012 and 2013, a Palestinian ring funded Hamas by picking up $55 million in cigarettes in Virginia and reselling them (tax-free) to stores in New York City, making $22 million in profits. This is hardly an isolated case (or just an American problem). Over in Europe, the underground cigarette trade has given future jihadis a place to cut their teeth. Before the ISIS shooters in Paris went after restaurants and concert halls, they were pushing cigarettes as small-time dealers. When they decided to move up to big-time terrorism, pushing cigarettes turned out to be one great way of funding the worst terrorist attack in French history. In 2014, a single major bust by European Union’s anti-fraud body confiscated 130 million cigarettes. As its leader put it: “tobacco smuggling has been found to significantly contribute to the financing of terrorist organizations.”

Much as New York’s mammoth tobacco tax failed to stop people from smoking and created bigger problems down the road, Obama’s new gun “laws” aren’t likely to accomplish much outside of setting a new precedent for how presidents go around Congress. He may only have a year left in office, but the ongoing standoff between Obama and the Congressional GOP has probably written the playbook for any future Democrat who ends up in the office. Since the left won’t be taking back either the House or the Senate any time soon, executive orders are going to become the weapon of choice for any future Democrat president who hopes to enact the liberal agenda. Fortunately for the Second Amendment, at least, it takes a lot more than a pen to change the Constitution.’