Barack Obama

Obama Contemplating Solo Executive Action on Expanding Background Checks for Gun Purchases

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Following in the footsteps of candidate Hillary Clinton's apparent intention to do the same, the Washington Post is reporting that Obama wants to make an end run around Congress by changing the legal definition of who is legally required to perform a federally mandated background check on gun buyers:

The Searcher / Foter / CC BY

The proposed executive action aims to impose background checks on individuals who buy from dealers who sell a significant number of guns each year. The current federal statute dictates that those who are "engaged in the business" of dealing firearms need to obtain a federal license — and, therefore, conduct background checks — but exempts anyone "who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms."

White House officials drafted the proposal in late 2013 to apply to those dealers who sell at least 50 guns annually, after Congress had rejected legislation that would have expanded background checks more broadly to private sellers. While the White House Office of Legal Counsel and then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. initially concluded the regulation was legally defensible, according to several individuals involved in the discussions, some federal lawyers remained concerned that setting an arbitrary numerical threshold could leave the rule vulnerable to a challenge.

ATF officials, moreover, objected that it would be hard to enforce and that it was unclear how many sellers would be affected by the change. "Everyone realized it would be hugely politically controversial," said one individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.

Well, it will allow him to say he did something. Something that would have had no effect on any of the public tragedies allegedly inspiring the move. Jacob Sullum explained at length here the other days the fecklessness of expanded or even "universal" background check requirements, which don't address what they are meant to address in terms of mass shootings, wouldn't do much for less colorful street crime, are nearly impossible to enforce minus national registries, and would keep far, far more peaceful Americans from exercising a core right than they would keep guns out of the hands of killers.