List of Obama Gun Control Measures

There Aren't as Many Obama Gun Laws as You Think

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden

Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons

President Barack Obama's record on gun control is a fairly weak one, even though he was often portrayed as the "most anti-gun president in American history" and called for more regulations in the wake of the numerous mass shootings that occurred during his two terms in office. "We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom," Obama said in 2016. The National Rifle Association once claimed Obama's "obsession with gun control knows no boundaries."

Did You Know?

Only two gun laws made it through Congress during Obama's two terms in office, and neither placed additional restrictions on gun owners. 

In fact, the two gun laws signed by Obama actually expanded the rights of gun owners in the United States. Attempts to limit the size of gun magazines, expand background checks of gun buyers, and ban gun sales to buyers on terrorism watch lists all failed to pass under Obama.

Perhaps the most significant Obama gun control measure was not a law but a rule that required the Social Security Administration to report disability-benefit recipients with mental health conditions to the FBI’s background check system, which is used to screen firearm buyers. Obama's successor, Republican President Donald Trump, rescinded the rule in 2017.

Obama Gun Control Proposals Had No Teeth

That is not to say Obama was not critical of the use of guns to commit the numerous mass shootings and acts of terrorism during his tenure in the White House. Quite the opposite. Obama sharply criticized the gun lobby and the easy access to firearms.

President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting to observe a moment of silence for Sandy Hook Victims
President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting to observe a moment of silence for Sandy Hook Victims. Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons

Obama also made curtailing gun violence a central theme of his second-term agenda after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. The president signed executive orders calling for mandatory criminal background checks on gun-buyers and several other measures that were unpopular in Congress, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But he was unable to win passage of new laws and insisted authorities do more to enforce measures already on the books.

Executive Actions, Not Executive Orders

Critics, however, point to Obama's issuance of 23 executive actions on gun violence in January 2016 as proof that the Democratic president was anti-gun. What most fail to point out is that those executive actions contained no new laws or regulations; and they were not executive orders, which are different than executive actions

"For all the pomp and ceremony, nothing in the president’s proposals is going to put a dent in U.S. gun crime or even substantially change the federal legal landscape. In that sense, apoplectic opponents and overjoyed supporters are both probably overreacting," wrote Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice.

Gun Laws Signed by Obama Expanded Rights

During his first term, Obama didn't call for any major new restrictions on guns or gun owners. Instead, he urged authorities to enforce the state and federal laws already on the books. In fact, Obama signed only two major laws that address how guns are carried in America, and both actually expand the rights of gun owners.

One of the laws allows gun owners to carry weapons in national parks; that law took effect in February 2012 and replaced President Ronald Reagan's policy that required guns to be locked in glove compartments of trunks of cars that enter national parks.

Another gun law signed by Obama allows Amtrak passengers to carry guns in checked baggage, a move that reversed a measure put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A Strong Tradition of Gun Ownership

Obama often mentions the expansion of gun rights under those two laws. He wrote in 2011:

"In this country, we have a strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed from generation to generation. Hunting and shooting are part of our national heritage. And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners—it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and Obama repeatedly expressed support for the Second Amendment, explaining:

"If you’ve got a rifle, you’ve got a shotgun, you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it away."

National Rifle Association Hammers Obama

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the NRA Political Victory Fund mailed out tens of thousands of brochures to gun owners and like-minded voters that accused Obama of lying about his position on gun control.

The brochure read:

"Barack Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history. Senator Obama says 'words matter.' But when it comes to your Second Amendment rights, he refuses to speak honestly about where he stands. In fact, Obama hides behind carefully chosen words and vague statements of support for sportsmen and gun rights to sidestep and camouflage the truth."

Even though the president didn't sign a single bill into law limiting the use or purchase of guns the NRA Political Victory Fund continued to warn its members and like-minded voters during the 2012 election that Obama would make weapons a target in a second term:

"If Barack Obama wins a second term in office, our Second Amendment freedom will not survive. Obama will never have to face the voters again, and will therefore be unleashed to push the most extreme elements of his gun-ban agenda to every corner of America." 

The NRA Political Victory Fund also falsely claimed that Obama had agreed to give the United Nations authority over the guns owned by Americans, saying:

"Obama has already endorsed moving ahead toward a U.N. gun ban treaty and will likely sign it after it’s negotiated."
View Article Sources
  1. "President Obama’s 2015 Executive Actions on Gun Control." National Conference of State Legislatures, 5 Jan. 2016.

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Murse, Tom. "List of Obama Gun Control Measures." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Murse, Tom. (2021, July 31). List of Obama Gun Control Measures. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "List of Obama Gun Control Measures." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).