Not being a psychiatrist, I don’t really understand why the President’s fairly modest efforts at gun policy reform seem to have utterly deranged some of his political opponents. But talk of impeachment in connection with his gun-related “executive orders” is, to put it mildly, ridiculous.
To put matters in context, it helps to understand “executive orders.” These are presidential directives – sometimes formally called “executive orders,” sometimes not – that are issued to help manage the federal government. There is no authoritative definition of “executive orders” that distinguishes them from “presidential memorandums,” “presidential proclamations,” or – as in the case of the George W. Bush first directive on military commissions – just “orders.” The Federal Register Act lumps them together with “presidential proclamations” as documents that, with some exceptions, must be made public.
Although some news outlets reported that President Obama signed 23 executive orders relating to gun violence in America, he actually signed only three. Although they were called, “Presidential Memorandums,” two, at least, were indistinguishable from run-of-the-mill executive orders in that they applied to the heads of all executive departments and agencies. The other, addressed to a single agency, takes a form that would typically be called a “memorandum.”
Executive orders, like any other form of presidential initiative, must be rooted in some form of legal authority. Some are issued in the President’s constitutional chief executive capacity, and set forth managerial requirements for specified federal operations. Some are issued pursuant to explicit authority delegated to the President by statute, or are issued as a way of complying with obligations Congress has imposed on the President or the executive branch more generally.