President Barack Obama’s bid to assert himself in his final year will begin with long-awaited executive actions on gun control, expected to be released next week, shortly after he returns to Washington. More »
President Obama will announce a series of executive actions to curb gun violence Tuesday, focusing on businesses that buy and sell guns at gun shows, flea markets and online without a license More »
The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a series of new executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence and making some political headway on one of the most frustrating policy areas of President More »
During the December 10 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unable to name one mass shooting that would have been prevented by the Obama gun control agenda. Also, The More »
President Barack Obama’s bid to assert himself in his final year will begin with long-awaited executive actions on gun control, expected to be released next week, shortly after he returns to Washington.
The White House is putting finishing touches on several measures in an effort to make progress on curbing gun violence, an issue the president and close aides have found frustratingly intractable, before the race to replace him enters prime time.
According to gun industry insiders and others familiar with the proposals, the changes include requiring an expanded number of small-scale gun sellers to be licensed — and therefore conduct background checks — whenever selling a weapon. This wouldn’t close the so-called gun show loophole, though it has the potential to narrow it.
The administration is also expected to impose tighter rules for reporting guns that get lost or stolen on their way to a buyer.
Neither comes close to the stronger gun control measures Obama sought in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting of schoolchildren in Sandy Hook and that he has said he still wants. But with Congress unlikely to approve any new gun curbs before the 2016 election, the measures are in line with what gun-control advocates were hoping would be adopted before Obama leaves office.
As with every aspect of the president’s final year, the decisions about the gun actions are being made with a sense of limited time and the 2016 political calendar. Obama will be returning from his Hawaii vacation, eager to make a splash; an earlier-than-normal State of the Union address on Jan. 12 is central to that strategy. But with the Iowa caucuses taking place on Feb. 1, Obama will have only a small window to act before the primary melee begins to crowd out other political news.
The background check change has been anticipated for months. Obama will tighten the definition of what it means to be “engaged in the business” of firearms sales. Currently, the law says people who sell guns with the “principal objective of livelihood and profit” have to get a dealer’s license through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — and therefore conduct a background check on buyers no matter where they sell, including online or at a gun show.
It’s unclear whether a lot more dealers would line up for licenses. But gun-control advocates say a better definition would make it much easier to prosecute sellers who should, but don’t. Only about half of the people who are tried for selling guns without a license are convicted by juries, according to a report from Everytown, the pro-gun control group led by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In an interview, Everytown officials couldn’t confirm whether the White House was heeding their advice. But, said legal director Liz Avore, “Any kind of clarification would be beneficial in this context because right now most sellers and prosecutors are kind of flying blind.”
It’s not clear whether Obama has settled on final language yet. But as one of the major proponents of a change, Everytown has recommended adding several factors to the definition — including selling guns in their original packaging, reselling a gun shortly after acquiring it, maintaining a certain quantity of guns for sale or selling more than 25 guns a year — as possible signals that someone needs a license.
A top gun industry executive defended the current definition, saying it requires dealers to make most of their living from gun sales before requiring a license. Based on conversations with ATF officials this month, the executive described the upcoming change as “overreach”: “If you are not doing it for the principal purpose of earning a livelihood AND earn a profit, you are not engaged in the business as defined by Congress,” he said in an email.
Another victory for advocates is likely to be a requirement for all licensed dealers and manufacturers to report to federal authorities any guns that are stolen in transit to a buyer as missing from their inventory. Currently, advocates say, thieves often target packages addressed to gun retailers in the hopes of stealing unregistered guns that are harder to trace. And while buyer and seller might sort out refunds or replacements on their own, they’re not required to report the missing guns to the National Crime Information Center.
ATF first proposed the new regulation in August 2014, which industry opposed, saying a voluntary reporting program was working just fine. But the year-and-a-half lag between the rule’s proposal and finalization is another factor urging Obama to act forcefully as he enters the last year in his term.
It is not clear whether the measure will take the form of a new regulation (which would take months longer to finish because of requirements for public comment) or clarification of an existing rule, which would take less time but might not carry as much weight with the courts — or a future administration.
“We have not been told that they are drafting a proposed rule,” the industry executive said. “But it remains to be seen.”
The White House declined to comment on the substance of the executive actions or their timing. Communications Director Jen Psaki told reporters at an event hosted by Bloomberg News in mid-December that the new gun measures were coming in “weeks, not months.”
This latest round of executive moves follows 23 actions related to gun violence that Obama ordered in 2013, in the months following the Sandy Hook massacre, plus two more in 2014. During that same period, Vice President Joe Biden led a failed campaign with congressional Democrats to pass a bill to impose near-universal background checks.
The president’s announcement of new gun actions will be more like his immigration executive orders in late 2014 — currently held up by the courts — issued as part of a broader campaign to pressure Congress and draw a contrast with Republicans.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett also raised gun-control advocates’ hopes for new domestic violence provisions last month. In a post on the actress Lena Dunham’s website, Jarrett noted that guns are the most likely cause of death for women who are victims of domestic partner violence.
Gun-control activists acknowledged that changing the rules for licenses might have limited impact on what sellers actually do in the short term. But in this political environment, they’ll take whatever measures they can, no matter how incremental.
“Setting cultural norms,” said Everytown research director Ted Alcorn, “is something that laws do.”
President Obama will announce a series of executive actions to curb gun violence Tuesday, focusing on businesses that buy and sell guns at gun shows, flea markets and online without a license — thus allowing buyers to evade the criminal background check required at brick-and-mortar gun stores.
The initiative stops far short of completely closing what’s been called the “gun show loophole.” Instead, the Justice Department will clarify an existing law that gun sellers who market firearms through gun shows and online can be “engaged in the business” of dealing in guns and require a federal license. That’s important because under the law, gun sales by hobbyists and collectors do not require background checks, but licensed gun dealers do.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said gun sellers would no longer be able to “hide behind the exception” to claim they’re not a dealer simply because they sell at gun shows.
“Let me be clear: It’s not where you are located but what you are doing that determines whether you are engaged in the business of dealing in firearms,” Lynch told reporters Monday. But she emphasized that the new initiative does not change any laws or regulations, and that the exception for legitimate hobbyists and collectors remains in the law.
The new guidance, which will be issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this week, also stops short of setting any numerical threshold of gun sales that would require a federal license.
While the numbers are relevant, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said the ATF will consider all the “facts and circumstances” of the gun seller: Whether he or she has business cards, accepts credit card payments, makes a profit, or sells guns in their original packaging or shortly after acquiring them.
Lynch noted that courts have held that as few as two sales could trigger the requirement.
The Obama administration will also hire more examiners to conduct gun background checks, clarify rules on lost and stolen guns, upgrade its criminal history and ballistics databases, and urge states to report more domestic violence convictions to the federal government. The Social Security Administration is also exploring a process that would submit information about beneficiaries with mental health disabilities to the background check system.
And in a presidential memorandum Monday, Obama directed the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to study “smart gun” technology to prevent accidental gunshots and allow better tracking of lost and stolen guns — with the idea of using the federal government’s purchasing power to encourage gun makers to market safer firearms.
Even before formally announcing the new actions, Obama promised Monday that the steps would be both within his legal authority and supported by “the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners.”
But he also acknowledged the limitations on his strategy of acting without congressional legislation. “It is my strong belief that for us to get our complete arm around the problem, Congress needs to act,” he told reporters in the Oval Office after meeting with top law enforcement officials.
“We’ll be making sure that people have a very clear understanding of what can make a difference and what we can do,” he said. “We have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country. It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting. It’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday that anything Obama proposes would be a “a dangerous level of executive overreach” and predicted a public backlash. But the National Rifle Association offered a restrained assessment of the White House actions.
“There is nothing in this set of proposals that would improve public safety,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said Monday. “President Obama is distracting the American people from his inability to keep us safe. This underscores the lack of seriousness the president has placed on this issue.”
Obama will announce the new measures at the White House Tuesday morning, with families of gun violence victims invited to the event.
Gun control advocates called the move “historic.”
“President Obama has taken the bold and meaningful action that Brady and its millions of supporters have been calling for,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to recent polls showing 89% of Americans — and 84% of gun owners — support universal background checks.
“This is not a partisan endeavor. And this is not just something that is being advanced by people who are strong advocates of gun control. Gun owners and Republicans overwhelmingly support at least this common-sense step, closing the gun show loophole,” he said.
Obama described the problem of gun violence as including both the headline-grabbing mass shootings and the everyday homicides, suicides and accidents that claim tens of thousands of lives a year.
Obama met Monday with Lynch, Jarrett, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI director James Comey, Acting Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Director Thomas Brandon and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston.
He also met Monday with Democrats in Congress who have been pushing gun legislation.