Washington – Connecticut lawmakers will help President Obama roll out new gun control initiatives that will broaden FBI background checks of gun buyers and anger Republican members of Congress who say the president has overstepped his authority.
“He’s going to need support from his allies on Capitol Hill,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, who attended a White House briefing on the president’s plans Monday afternoon.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D- 5th District, were among more than a dozen Democrats invited to the briefing.
Obama will use his executive authority to broaden FBI background checks of potential gun buyers to include sales at gun shows and by individuals over the Internet, which are now excluded, said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett during a call with reporters late Monday.
But the president will not fully close what’s been called the “gun-show loophole.”
Current federal law requires those “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms to obtain a federal license that requires them to conduct background checks of their customers. But the law 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.”
The White House said those people will continue to be exempted. But it will provide guidance to others who sell guns on a regular basis for profit that they need to conduct background checks.
“Just because you shop for a gun with your mouse and not your feet doesn’t mean you should be exempt from a background check,” Jarrett said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will stop short of setting any numerical threshold of gun sales that would require a federal license. While the numbers are relevant, the ATF will consider all the “facts and circumstances” of the gun sellers.
Esty said Obama’s action is a “necessary, responsible next step to update an exceptionally vague definition in the current background check system that some bad actors exploit in order to sell a high volume of guns without ever conducting a background check.”
“It’s not as much I’d like to see. It’s not as much as the president says he would like to see, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Esty said.
Murphy said he’s aware Obama has taken a lot of heat from opponents for using his executive authority to change immigration laws and on other issues.
“But this simply clarifies an existing bad statute,” Murphy said.
Murphy also said Obama understands the pain and agony caused by gun violence.
“And like almost everyone I talk to in Connecticut, he cannot believe that Congress has done absolutely nothing to save the lives of the people they represent. He gets it, and he knows it’s time to act,” he said.
Unable to sway Congress to tighten the background-check process, Murphy and Blumenthal, joined by 22 Democratic colleagues, in November asked Obama in a letter to use his executive authority to broaden background checks.
Obama had already started looking into doing that. Prompted by the Oct. 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., the president ordered the Justice Department to look for ways he might impose tougher restrictions by executive authority.
Jarrett said the Justice Department made a series of recommendations besides expanding background checks that the president will adopt.
Obama plans to begin to roll out his initiatives in an address from the East Room of the White House Tuesday morning. Gov. Dannel Malloy plans to attend the event.
Jarrett said one initiative would press states to better report to the FBI background check database those who are barred from purchasing guns – which includes felons and those committed to a mental institution through a court order.
The Obama administration will also hire 230 additional background check examiners to speed the background check process. Under current law, a gun sale can go through if the FBI has not responded within 72 hours.
Obama will also bar sales through trusts and corporations aimed at hiding the identity of a gun buyer. More than 90,000 guns were sold that way in 2014, Jarrett said.
In addition, the Obama administration will propose a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care and ask the Department of Homeland Security to conduct research into technology that would make guns safer.
Obama issued 23 executive orders involving gun safety after the December 2014 shooting of 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They ranged from re-establishing federal research into the causes of gun violence to banning nearly all the re-imports of military surplus firearms to private entities
Blumenthal said the latest actions will have more impact.
“These measures are really pretty monumental and will provide momentum,” Blumenthal said. “They are critical, breakthrough steps.”
On Monday, Obama met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and other federal officials to discuss the initiatives.
“The good news is that these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they’re also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe,” Obama said.
The president also said, “I’m confident that the recommendations that are being made by my team here are ones that are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and people’s lawful right to bear arms.”
The National Rifle Association, however, said there is no need to tinker with existing gun laws. Nor does the president have the authority to do so, the NRA said.
“People who repeatedly sell large volumes of firearms for livelihood or profit are covered by the current law because they are already defined as ‘engaged in the business.’ Federal law is clear,” NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said. “President Obama cannot willy-nilly change the law without Congress.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is a Republican candidate for the White House, called Obama “a petulant child” who sidesteps Congress “whenever he can’t get what he wants,” during an interview on Fox News on Sunday.
“This is going to be another illegal executive action, which I’m sure will be rejected by the courts, and when I become president will be stricken from executive action,” Christie said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also a GOP contender for the White House, called the president’s plans “completely inappropriate.” Several congressional Republicans said on Monday that the Obama administration should work harder to enforce existing gun laws instead of putting new ones on the books.
While Obama is committed to using his authority to tighten federal gun laws, he said congressional action on gun safety measures is needed, including a law that would add those on federal “no fly lists” of terrorist suspects to the FBI background check database.