US President Barack Obama tightens rules on gun control

January 6, 2016 1:30 am

 Obama’s
package of executive actions aims to curb what he’s described as a
scourge of gun violence in the U.S. Photo / Getty Images

President Barack Obama’s do-it-himself plan for keeping guns away
from those who shouldn’t have them falls far short of what he’d hoped to
accomplish through legislation after a massacre at Sandy Hook
Elementary School shook the country to attention in 2012.
Yet
even the more modest steps Obama will announce rely on murky
interpretations of existing law that could be easily reversed by his
successor.
At the centerpiece of Obama’s plan, to be unveiled at a
White House event with gun violence victims, is a more sweeping
definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the
number of gun sales subject to background checks. At gun shows, websites
and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to
register as licensed dealers, but officials said new federal guidance
would clarify that it applies to anyone “in the business” of selling
firearms.
They put sellers on notice that the government planned
to strengthen enforcement – including deploying 230 new examiners the
FBI will hire to process background checks.

“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this
country,” Obama said. Yet he said the steps would “potentially save
lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”
Obama’s
package of executive actions aims to curb what he’s described as a
scourge of gun violence in the U.S., punctuated by appalling mass
shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Charleston, South Carolina; and
Tucson, Arizona, among many others. After Newtown, Obama sought
far-reaching, bipartisan legislation that went beyond background checks.
When
the effort collapsed in the Senate, the White House said it was
thoroughly researching the president’s powers to identify every legal
step he could take on his own.
A more recent spate of gun-related
atrocities, including in San Bernardino, California, shootings have
spurred the administration to give the issue another look, as Obama
seeks to make good on a policy issue that he’s elevated time and again
but has failed until now to advance.
Attorney General Loretta
Lynch and other top officials declined to explain why Obama hadn’t taken
these steps years ago and whether the administration had contemplated
these actions in the past but determined Obama didn’t have the
authority.
“We’re very comfortable that the president can legally take these actions now,” said Lynch.
After
formally announcing the package Tuesday, Obama planned to continue the
weeklong push to promote the gun effort with a prime time, televised
town hall discussion Thursday. The initiative also promised to be
prominent in Obama’s final State of the Union address next week.
Under
current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct
background checks on buyers, but many who sell guns at flea markets, on
websites or in other informal settings don’t register as dealers. Gun
control advocates say that loophole is exploited to skirt the background
check requirement.
Now, the Justice Department’s Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will issue updated guidance
that says the government should deem anyone “in the business” of selling
guns to be a dealer, regardless of where he or she sells the guns. To
that end, the government will consider other factors, including how many
guns a person sells, how frequently, and whether those guns are sold
for a profit.
The background check provision rests in the murky
realm of agency “guidelines,” which carry less weight than formally
issued federal regulations and can easily be rescinded. Lynch said the
administration chose to clarify guidelines because it allowed the
policies to be implemented immediately. Left unsaid was the fact that
developing regulations would have dragged out likely until Obama’s
presidency ends and would have generated more opportunities for
Republicans to intervene.
Hillary Clinton, at a rally in Iowa,
said she was proud of Obama’s efforts, but warned that the next
president could easily undo his changes.
“I won’t wipe it away,” Clinton said.
Republicans
were quick to accuse Obama of gross overreach. Many of the Republican
presidential candidates have vowed to rip up new Obama gun restrictions
upon taking office, and some lawmakers are contemplating withholding
Justice Department funds if it tries to implement them.
“Obama’s
declaration that he will impose his gun control agenda by executive
order shows an utter disregard for the Second Amendment as well as the
proper constitutional process for making laws in our nation,” GOP
presidential candidate Jeb Bush wrote Tuesday in an op-ed in Iowa’s
Cedar Rapids Gazette.
The new guidance still exempts collectors
and gun hobbyists, and the exact definition of who must register as a
dealer and conduct background checks remains exceedingly vague. The
administration did not issue a number for how many guns someone must
sell to be considered a dealer, instead saying it planned to remind
people that courts have deemed people to be dealers in some cases even
if they only sell one or two guns.
The White House said it
planned to ask Congress for $500 million to improve mental health care.
Obama also issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to conduct or
sponsor research into smart gun technology that reduces the risk of
accidental gun discharges.

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