President Barack Obama will announce executive actions today intended to expand background checks for some firearm purchases and step up federal enforcement of the nation’s gun laws, White House officials said Monday.
“We’re very comfortable that the president can legally take these actions,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Under his plan, the White House said, officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will begin contacting gun sellers to let them know of new standards to “clarify” who would be considered a regulated dealer — taking into account factors such as whether someone has a business card, uses a website or sells guns in their original packaging. According to the New York Times, there will be no set number for defining how many guns sold would make someone a “dealer” — a standard that some groups had pushed as essential to giving the changes more teeth. White House officials said someone could sell as few as one or two guns yet still be considered a dealer whose sales are subject to background checks.
These expanded background checks are meant to cover more firearms sold at gun shows, online and anywhere else, aiming to curb gun violence.
“We have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said Monday. “It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting; it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal.”
The New York Times says Obama’s plan to broaden background checks forms the centerpiece of a broader package of gun control measures the president plans to take on his own in his final year in office. Although Obama can’t unilaterally change gun laws, the president is hoping that beefing up enforcement of existing laws can prevent at least some gun deaths in a country rife with them.
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.
The Associated Press says the new guidance still exempts collectors and gun hobbyists.
In an attempt to prevent gun purchases from falling through the cracks, the FBI will hire 230 more examiners to process background checks, the White House said, an increase of about 50 percent. Many of the roughly 63,000 background check requests each day are processed within seconds. But if the system kicks back a request for further review, the government only has three days before federal law says the buyer can return and buy the gun without being cleared.
The White House also said it planned to ask Congress for $500 million to improve mental health care, and Obama issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to conduct or sponsor research into smart gun technology that reduces the risk of accidental gun discharges. The Obama administration also plans to complete a rule, already in the works, to close another loophole that allows trusts or corporations to purchase sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and similar weapons without background checks.
Obama met at the White House on Monday with Democratic lawmakers who have supported stricter gun control, and planned to take his argument to prime time Thursday with a televised town hall discussion. The initiative also promised to be prominent in Obama’s final State of the Union address next week.
Whether the new steps will effectively prevent future gun deaths remained unclear, according to the Associated Press. Philip Cook, a Duke University professor who researches gun violence and policy, said surveys of prisoners don’t show gun shows to be a major direct source of weapons used in violent crime. The attorney general, asked how many dealers would be newly forced to register, declined to give a number.
“It’s just impossible to predict,” Lynch said.
(Photos courtesy of Whitehouse.gov.)