Obama acts alone

Pres­i­dent tight­ens con­trols on buy­ing and sell­ing weapons on­line and at gun shows. Steps likely will be chal­lenged in court by Repub­li­cans and gun lob­by­ists.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Lederman

Tears stream­ing down his cheeks, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama launched a fi­nal-year push Tues­day to tighten sales of firearms in the U.S., us­ing his pres­i­den­tial pow­ers in the ab­sence of tougher gun re­stric­tions that Congress has re­fused to pass.

The pres­i­dent struck a com­bat­ive tone as he came out with plans for ex­panded back­ground checks and other mod­est mea­sures that have drawn con­ster­na­tion from gun-rights groups, which Obama ac­cused of making Congress their hostage. Pal­pa­ble, too, was Obama’s ex­treme frus­tra­tion at hav­ing made such lit­tle progress on gun con­trol since the killing of 20 first-graders in Con­necti­cut con­fronted the na­tion more than three years ago.

“First-graders,” Obama said woe­fully, rest­ing his chin on his hand and wip­ing away tears as he re­called the 2012 mas­sacre at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School. “Ev­ery time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

Obama’s 10-point plan to keep guns from those who shouldn’t have them marked a con­ces­sion by the pres­i­dent: He’ll leave of­fice with­out se­cur­ing the new gun-con­trol laws he’s re­peat­edly and des­per­ately im­plored Congress to pass.

Al­though Obama, act­ing alone, can take ac­tion around the mar­gins, only Congress can en­act more sweep­ing changes that gun-con­trol ad­vo­cates say are the only way to truly stem the fre­quency of mass shoot­ings.

“It won’t hap­pen overnight,” Obama said. “It won’t hap­pen dur­ing this Congress. It won’t hap­pen dur­ing my pres­i­dency.” But, he added op­ti­misti­cally, “a lot of things don’t hap­pen overnight.”

The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, the

largest gun group, panned Obama’s plan and said it was “ripe for abuse,” al­though the group didn’t spec­ify what steps, if any, it will take to op­pose or try to block it.

The cen­ter­piece of Obama’s plan is an at­tempt to nar­row the loop­hole that ex­empts gun sales from back­ground checks if the seller isn’t a fed­eral reg­is­tered dealer. With new fed­eral “guidance,” the ad­min­is­tra­tion is clar­i­fy­ing that even those who sell just a few weapons at gun shows, flea mar­kets or on­line can be deemed deal­ers and re­quired to con­duct checks on prospec­tive buy­ers.

Whether that step can make a sig­nif­i­cant dent in un­reg­u­lated gun sales is an open ques­tion, and one not eas­ily an­swered.

Mil­lions of guns are sold an­nu­ally in in­for­mal set­tings out­side of gun shops, in­clud­ing many through pri­vate sales ar­ranged on­line. But 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.

Eas­ily re­versible by a fu­ture pres­i­dent, the gov­ern­ment’s guidance to gun sell­ers lacks the le­gal oomph of a new law, such as the one Obama and like-minded law­mak­ers tried but failed to pass in 2013. The Jus­tice Depart­ment said on­line the guidance “has no reg­u­la­tory ef­fect and is not in­tended to cre­ate or con­fer any rights, priv­i­leges or ben­e­fits in any mat­ter, case or pro­ceed­ing.”

Obama read­ily con­ceded that the ex­ec­u­tive steps will be chal­lenged in court, a pre­dic­tion quickly echoed by Repub­li­cans.

Chuck James, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor who prac­tices firearms law at the firm Wil­liams Mullen, said op­po­nents are likely to chal­lenge Obama’s author­ity to de­fine what it means to be “en­gaged in the busi­ness” of sell­ing guns be­yond what’s laid out in the law.

Other new steps in­clude 230 new ex­am­in­ers the FBI will hire to process back­ground checks, aim­ing to pre­vent de­lays that en­abled the ac­cused gunman in Charleston, S.C., to get a gun when the gov­ern­ment took too long. Obama also is ask­ing the gov­ern­ment to re­search smart gun tech­nol­ogy to re­duce ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama wipes away tears as he speaks in the East Room of the White House on Tues­day about steps his ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing to try to re­duce gun violence. Carolyn Kaster, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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