Politics

He’s Going for the Guns

Obama seriously entertaining executive action on firearms

Less than 10 days after telling the American people that he was powerless to stop gun violence without Congress, President Obama is on the verge of trying to do an end-run around lawmakers and enact new regulations governing gun purchases.

Obama is seriously considering executive action that would rewrite the definition of which gun sellers are required to conduct criminal background checks, according to reports.

“Under the proposed rule change, dealers who exceed a certain number of sales each year would be required to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and perform background checks on potential buyers,” the Washington Post reported.

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An angry Obama on Oct. 1 urged the nation to pressure Congress to pass gun control measures in response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College in rural Oregon. He made clear that he lacked authority to crack down on gun violence without the cooperation of the legislative branch.

“And this is not something I can do by myself,” he said. “I’ve got to have a Congress, and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors, who are willing to work with me on this.”

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Obama went so far as to say during a news conference the next day that it is important to be “a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side,” suggesting legislative remedies were needed.

But that was all last week.

Now Obama, who increasingly rules via executive fiat and circumvents the Constitution with abandon on issues like immigration and federal appointments, is looking to make gun policy in the West Wing, too, instead of on Capitol Hill.

Administration aides have been brainstorming actions Obama can take in response to the shooting at the Oregon community college that left the gunman and nine victims dead.

Obama’s impending flip-flop is reminiscent of his about-face on immigration.

Louis Fisher, scholar in residence at The Constitution Project, said Obama’s impending flip-flop is reminiscent of his about-face on immigration.

“It’s inconsistent, but it’s very consistent,” he said. “For years on immigration, he said he was not a king, not a monarch. Then bam, on Nov. 20 (2014) he comes out with his executive action.”

That proposal, which would protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and allow them to work, currently is tied up in the courts. It is one of a number of areas in which Obama has bypassed Congress. Gun control advocates argue that Obama would be on solid legal ground in extending background check requirements without congressional approval.

John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime, The Bias Against Guns,” is not so sure.

“I don’t see how he has any authority to do this,” he said. “That statute is pretty clear.”

That statute requires a federal firearms license for any “person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”

Related: Obama’s Not Done with Guns

It also specifically exempts “occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby.”

Congress has rebuffed proposals to extend those regulations to private sellers. Lott questioned whether Obama could set an arbitrary number of sales to define “high-volume” dealers.

Officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have indicated the proposal under consideration by the White House would be difficult to carry out practically. Lott agreed.

“I don’t see how they can enforce it,” he said.

The proposal would not have prevented a single mass shooting that has occurred in recent years.

Lott said the proposal would not have prevented a single mass shooting that has occurred in recent years.

“I don’t think this is going to have any impact on mass shootings,” said Lott, who is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. “I have no idea why the president is pushing this.”

Any move by Obama is sure to outrage the conservative base, possibly adding to support for Donald Trump, who has enraptured many conservatives with vows to change the way business is done in Washington.

Related: How Trump Echoes Reagan

Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said the proposal ignores the fact that people who have committed recent mass shootings purchased their guns from businesses that already are federally licensed and conducting background checks.

“These guys are people who slipped through the cracks already,” she said. “So background checks are not stopping them. It’s unnecessary. It’s already regulated under the statute. They’re trying to make it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

The last time Obama acted to change gun policy, in 2013, he rejected a licensing requirement for anyone who sells at least 50 guns a year. Some federal lawyers concluded that would be difficult to defend in court.

Hunter said such a requirement would force private citizens to comply with costs and regulations designed for businesses. For instance, a widow who sells her husband’s 80-gun collection would be required to pay for a federal firearms license, she said.

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