President Obama Announces Executive Action on Gun Control

In a White House speech earlier this week, an emotional President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions designed to limit gun violence in America in response to the several tragic mass shootings which have claimed innocent lives during the President’s second term.  The controversial legal maneuver has already been met with criticism from both gun rights activists and members of Congress who believe the President has again overstepped his constitutional authority by issuing legal directives without going through the proper legislative channels. 

President Obama Announces Gun Sale Guidance Plan

In a speech lasting just over half an hour, President Obama – accompanied by loved ones of victims of gun violence – argued passionately about the need for increased restriction on gun sales in America in order to limit the likelihood of future mass shooting attacks.  The President announced his plan to increase restrictions on gun sales and access to firearms with an emotional – at times tearful – talk highlighting the importance of understanding the 2nd Amendment is subject to limits created to promote a safer America.  A visibly frustrated President argued the “unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" of victims of gun violence mediates an unfettered right to bear arms and justifies his gun control guidelines.  The President also announced he hoped to politicize the issue in order to encourage Congress to pass more stringent restrictions on gun sale and usage in the future.

The President’s executive action on gun control, outlined here, largely focuses on tighter enforcement and more rigid interpretation of existing laws and regulations which control gun sales and background checks. Additionally, the President announced he has directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to increase funding for investigating and prosecuting federal gun crimes in order to keep violent offenders off of the streets.  The new executive action will provide funding for more than 200 new federal gun investigators who will be charged with improving the background check process and track illegal gun trafficking in order to reduce the presence of illegal firearms.  Finally, the President’s plan proposes to devote $500 million to treating mental illness.

President’s Gun Control Action Focuses Efforts on Gun Sales

While there are a range of initiatives in the President’s executive action on gun regulation, the most significant and potentially impactful effort is directed at better restricting the sale of firearms across America.  The President’s attention to gun sales attempts to more clearly define what activities make someone a firearms dealer who cannot sell weapons without first obtaining a Federal Firearms License (FFL).  Under the existing federal Gun Control Act a person who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms must first receive a FFL and conduct background checks every time they sell a gun.  While President Obama’s new executive action did not redefine what constitutes a firearms dealer, the announcement clarified the definition by looking at legal cases across the country.

By clarifying the definition of firearms dealer to include a wide array of firearms transactions, the President hopes to more strictly monitor and regulate the sale of guns over the internet and during informal exchanges at gun shows across the country.  The definition of firearms dealer is interpreted broadly to include any person who is “engaged in the business” based on the frequency and quantity of gun sales they are involved in.  To further monitor the sale of guns, President Obama is also requesting the ATF and states improve their reporting and tracking systems with the goal of providing more thorough and accurate assessments of every American who wishes to purchase a gun.

The President has directed the ATF to make the background check system more effective and efficient, which will be done by a series of agency created rules to be finalized within the next year.  Although the President’s gun control executive action has drawn attention and criticism from his political opponents, the lack of any new law on gun sales suggests Mr. Obama’s action is primarily designed to spur public demand for Congress to take more aggressive action.

Obama Gun Control Executive Action Fuels Political Debate

Before the President had the opportunity to fully explain his unilateral action on gun control, Republicans in Congress and campaigning for the Presidency criticized Obama for again taking action without going through legislative channels.  Presidential hopefuls and Senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz all expressed their displeasure at Obama’s decision to avoid Congressional approval before taking action on gun regulation, and each told supporters they would undo the action should they be elected.  For his part, President Obama acknowledged that any new laws or regulations on gun control would need to go through Congress, but reiterated that his new executive actions are designed, in part, to force the issue.

Because the President’s gun control executive action doesn’t create new laws there is less of a chance that he will face the type of challenge in court that his immigration executive action has, but supporters of the President’s announcement hope the increased focus on gun sale licensing enforcement and more rigorous attention to background checks will help to limit gun violence and force Congress to more fully address the issue going forward.

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