WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama moved Monday to require all gun sellers to register as dealers — even those who sell at gun shows and online — and to run background checks on all prospective purchasers, aiming to curb a scourge of gun violence despite unyielding opposition to new gun laws in Congress.
The president has been looking for ways to work around a Republican-led Congress that has blocked his previous efforts to tighten gun laws in the wake of mass shootings. Obama has accused Republicans — and some Democrats — of being beholden to the powerful gun industry lobby and opposing some measures he says a majority of Americans support, including expanded background checks on gun sales. But the issue of gun control bitterly divides Americans, with many viewing any attempt to regulate firearms as a possible infringement on their constitutional rights to own guns.
In a bid to narrow the so-called gun show loophole, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will issue updated guidance that says the government can consider someone a gun dealer regardless of where he or she sells the guns, officials said.
Only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers, and gun control advocates say people who sell guns outside of gun stores exploit that provision to skirt the background check requirement.
Obama’s executive actions on gun control fall short of what some gun control advocates have called for, but were nevertheless sure to spark a confrontation with Republicans and gun rights groups that oppose new impediments to buying guns.
“We’re very comfortable that the president can legally take these actions now,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
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. The FBI has a computerized system that can process background checks for many in seconds. But in instances where the FBI needs more time, the government only has three days before prospective buyers can return and buy the gun without being cleared.
Obama defended the measures even before they were announced, insisting they fall within his legal authority and uphold the Second Amendment right to own a gun. He planned to announce the new measures at an event at the White House on Tuesday.
“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said. Still, he added, “It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”
Obama defended his administration’s plans to tighten the nation’s gun-control restrictions without going through Congress, kicking off his last year in office with a clear signal that he intends to prioritize one of the country’s most intractable issues.
Obama’s administration has been preparing an effort to expand background checks on gun sales by forcing more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers.
“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said, setting expectations for what he can do on his own. “It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting; it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal. It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”
More than three years after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, with many other mass shootings since, Obama is training his attention once again on a policy goal that has eluded his administration. He tried the legislative route in 2013, pushing hard for a package of gun control measures including expanded background checks. But that effort collapsed spectacularly in Congress.