Obama issues executive action on gun control

In the Blue Room of the White House, President Barack Obama talks with people whose lives have been impacted by gun violence, prior to announcing executive actions that the administration is taking to reduce gun violence, Jan. 5, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the Blue Room of the White House, President Barack Obama talks with people whose lives have been impacted by gun violence, prior to announcing executive actions that the administration is taking to reduce gun violence, Jan. 5, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

An emotional President Obama announced new executive actions on gun control from the White House Tuesday.

Citing the inability of Congress to take action and blocking what he termed as “commonsense reforms supported by the vast majority of the American people,” the President took it upon himself to try and reduce gun violence.

“Five years ago this week, a sitting member of Congress and 18 others were shot at in a supermarket in Tucson Arizona,” President Obama said. “That wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation about a mass shooting and it wouldn’t be the last.”

He then proceeded to mention other sites of terrible gun violence that included Fort Hood, Columbine, Newtown, and San Bernadino.
Obama then went on to say: “We know that we can’t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one?”

The President met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss what he could do without congressional legislation to reduce gun violence in America, which kills many more people in the United States than other developed nations. The Whitehouse had been working on the plan for months behind the scenes.

The changes attempt to tighten what’s widely known as the ‘gun show loophole,’ as well as increase the efficiency of the federal background check system to avoid cases from falling through. The executive actions will also take smaller steps, ranging from improving the tracking of lost or stolen guns to encouraging technological improvements that will, in theory, make firearms safer.

This would not be the first time Obama has taken executive action on guns. In 2013, after Congress failed to pass gun control legislation following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In response, Obama signed 23 executive actions and then a few follow-up actions that tightened the background check system.

However, Obama’s latest actions appear to be the boldest, touching on one of the longest-running issues with federal gun control laws and a broader hot-button debate about what to do about America’s extraordinary levels of gun violence.

Critics of the administration have already threatened to challenge the new executive actions in court. Not getting legislation in the books also means that should a Republican win the White House, Obama’s actions will most likely be reversed. Shortly before the announcement of the plan, a congressional Republican threatened to block funding for the Justice Department to stop the executive actions.

In a statement, the White House has said: “The president has made clear the most impactful way to address the crisis of gun violence in our country is for Congress to pass some common sense gun safety measures. But the president has also said he’s fully aware of the unfortunate political realities in this Congress. That is why he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively.”

In a nutshell, the plan will do the following:
• The federal government will issue guidance that will narrow who can sell guns without a federal license, based on an evaluation of the circumstances surrounding individual gun sales. The idea is to reduce the number of for-profit dealers (as opposed to collectors or people who only give or sell guns to family members or friends) who avoid background checks, whether they’re at a store, at a gun show, on the internet, or anywhere else.

• The FBI will hire more than 230 more people to help run background checks—an increase of more than 50% to the current staff. Lynch said this was in part needed to keep up with rising demand. “We’re looking to improve the efficiency and response time of the system,” she said.

• The government will also require background checks for people who try to buy restricted firearms through a legal entity, such as a corporation or trust. People were able to avoid background checks in the past through these entities.

• The Department of Health and Human Services will finalize a rule regarding health record privacy laws to remove barriers to states providing mental health records to the background check system.

• The administration will enforce tighter rules for reporting guns that are lost or stolen on their way to the buyer to make it easier for law enforcement to track down missing firearms.

• Federal agencies will encourage and fund more research into technologies that can make guns safer, largely to reduce the risk of accidents.

In addition to these measures, the administration will continue pushing Congress to pass tighter gun control laws, and to direct more funds to enforcing existing gun laws and to mental health treatment.