Obama’s gun control plan draws quick fire
Washington — Tears streaking his cheeks, President Barack Obama launched his plan Tuesday to tighten control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S., using his presidential powers in the absence of legal changes he implored Congress to pass.
Obama accused the gun lobby of taking Congress hostage, but said “they cannot hold America hostage.” He insisted it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. that he said had become “the new normal.”
“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns,” Obama said in a ceremony in the East Room. “You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.”
The National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby, derided Obama for delivering an “emotional, condescending” lecture “completely devoid of facts” on guns. Without listing specific objections, the group said in a statement that “the proposed executive actions are ripe for abuse by the Obama administration.”
Obama wiped tears away as he recalled the 20 first-graders killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He paid tribute to the parents, some of whom gathered for the ceremony, who he said had never imagined their child’s life would be cut short by a bullet.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch wrote Monday to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other governors urging them to improve the reporting of criminal history, mental health and domestic violence records to strengthen the background check system for firearm purchases.
Lynch noted that many states have worked with the FBI in recent years to better the quality and quantity of records available to the background check system.
“However, much remains to be done, and the information contained within the databases accessed by the (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) is far from complete,” Lynch wrote in a letter obtained by The Detroit News.
Michigan already provides federal officials with the three categories of records outlined in Lynch’s letter. Criminal history records are reported daily to the federal Interstate Identification Index; mental health records are reported real-time to NICS; and misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence — if a conviction exists for this crime — would be part of a criminal history record, said Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for Michigan State Police.
Possible court challenge
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans denounced Obama’s move as executive overreach, with the Wisconsin Republican saying the effort “will no doubt be challenged in the courts.”
“His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty,” Ryan said in a statement, adding that Obama “has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership.”
Republican presidential candidates also condemned the effort, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeting that the executive actions were “unconstitutional” and Detroit native Ben Carson writing the moves would “merely regulate the freedom of law-abiding citizens.”
Democratic presidential candidates were quick to applaud the president’s actions, with front-runner Hillary Clinton tweeting that the moves represent “a crucial step forward on gun violence.” Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who has been criticized by his Democratic opponents over his voting record on guns issues, said he would continue Obama’s executive actions if he succeeded him in the White House.
At the centerpiece of Obama’s plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks. Under current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers.
Aiming to narrow that loophole, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is issuing 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.
Gun sellers on notice
The White House also put gun sellers on notice that the administration planned to strengthen enforcement — including deploying 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks.
The impact of Obama’s plan on gun violence remains a major question, and one not easily answered. Had the rules been in place in the past, the steps wouldn’t likely have prevented any of the recent mass shootings that have garnered national attention. 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.
Pushing back on that critique, Obama said every time the issue is debated, gun rights groups argue the steps wouldn’t necessarily have stopped the last massacre, “so why bother trying?”
“I reject that thinking,” Obama said.
Michigan’s congressional delegation split among party lines on Obama’s moves.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said Obama’s executive actions would not have prevented high-profile gun killings in the past few years.
“President Obama’s gun control proposal once again shows his blatant disregard for the Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment and our nation’s lawmaking process,” Bishop said.
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, welcomed the president’s move.
“Nothing in the president’s proposal restricts our Second Amendment right to bear arms or our Fourth Amendment right to privacy,” Lawrence said.
Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke and Bloomberg News contributed.