Quantcast

Obama issues executive action on gun control

JOSH LEDERMAN | 1/18/2016, 4:43 p.m.
“Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns – 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang ...
An emotional President Barack Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, pauses as he recalls the 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, while speaking in the East Room of the White House about steps his administration is taking to reduce gun violence, Jan. 5. Jacquelyn Martin

The National Rifle Association, the largest gun group, panned Obama’s plan and said it was “ripe for abuse,” although the group didn’t specify what steps, if any, it would take to oppose or try to block it. Even Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat and gun-owner who co-wrote the bipartisan bill Obama supported in 2013, took issue with the president’s move.

“Instead of taking unilateral executive action, the president should work with Congress and the American people, just as I’ve always done, to pass the proposals he announced today,” Manchin said.

The centerpiece of Obama’s plan is an attempt to narrow the loophole that exempts gun sales from background checks if the seller isn’t a federal registered dealer. With new federal “guidance,” the administration is clarifying that even those who sell just a few weapons at gun shows, flea markets or online can be deemed dealers and required to conduct checks on prospective buyers.

Whether that step can make a significant dent in unregulated gun sales is an open question, and one not easily answered.

Millions of guns are sold annually in informal settings outside of gun shops, including many through private sales arranged online. But the Obama administration acknowledged it couldn’t quantify how many gun sales would be newly subjected to background checks, nor how many currently unregistered gun sellers would have to obtain a license.

Easily reversible by a future president, the government’s guidance to gun sellers lacks the legal oomph of a new law, such as the one Obama and likeminded lawmakers tried but failed to pass in 2013. The Justice Department said online the guidance “has no regulatory effect and is not intended to create or confer any rights, privileges, or benefits in any matter, case, or proceeding.”

Obama acknowledged those who doubt gun reform would have prevented the most recent mass shootings. But he defiantly rejected that critique, dismissing it as the tired trope of gun lobbyists who question “Why bother trying?”

“I reject that thinking,” Obama said. “We maybe can’t save everybody, but we could save some.”

Hoping to give the issue a human face, the White House assembled a cross-section of Americans affected by searing recent gun tragedies, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Mark Barden, whose son was shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, introduced the president with a declaration that “we are better than this.”

Obama readily conceded the executive steps will be challenged in court, a prediction quickly echoed by Republicans.

Chuck James, a former federal prosecutor who practices firearms law at the firm Williams Mullen, said opponents are likely to challenge Obama’s authority to define what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling guns beyond what’s laid out in the law. The White House asserted confidence Obama was acting legally, and said Justice Department and White House lawyers had worked diligently to ensure the steps were watertight.

Other new steps include 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks, aiming to prevent delays that enabled the accused gunman in Charleston, South Carolina, to get a gun when the government took too long.