LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — President Barack Obama unveiled an array of measures on Tuesday tightening control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S., using his presidential powers in the absence of legal changes he implored Congress to pass.
Local public officials applauded Obama’s announcement that he will take executive actions in an effort to reduce gun violence. A Glendale gun shop owner said he disagreed with the actions, but expects sales at his store to rise sharply.
In his address, Obama accused the gun lobby of taking Congress hostage, but said “they cannot hold America hostage.” He insisted it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. that he said had become “the new normal.”
“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns,” Obama said in a ceremony in the East Room. “You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.”
An emotional Obama wiped tears away from his eye as he recalled the 20 first-graders killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He paid tribute to the parents, some of whom gathered for the ceremony, who he said had never imagined their child’s life would be cut short by a bullet.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said.
At the centerpiece of Obama’s plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks. Under current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers.
Aiming to narrow that loophole, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is issuing updated guidance that says the government should deem anyone “in the business” of selling guns to be a dealer, regardless of where he or she sells the guns. To that end, the government will consider other factors, including how many guns a person sells, how frequently, and whether those guns are sold for a profit.
The White House also put sellers on notice that the administration planned to strengthen enforcement — including deploying 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks.
Several Southland public officials voiced support for the President’s plan, including Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who released a statement that read in part: ““As prosecutors we know all too well that violent gun offenders routinely skirt background checks by obtaining weapons through ‘private sales’ at gun shows and online marketplaces. By contrast, traditional gun retailers have prevented more than two million prohibited persons from obtaining firearms through mandatory background checks of potential buyers.
“Requiring more gun sellers to obtain licenses and perform these checks is a common-sense measure that will save countless American lives.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti also cheered the move, saying: “Congress has failed time and again to pass firearm safety measures, such as background checks, that are supported by the vast majority of Americans, including gun owners. We are grateful that today President Obama is pushing past the politics of the gun lobby to take steps that can save lives.”
In a statement on its official Twitter account, the National Rifle Association said “No other organization in the world has done more to promote firearm safety than the #NRA” and stated the group has called for “the full enforcement of existing law for…a while now.”
Obama’s package of executive actions aims to curb what he’s described as a scourge of gun violence in the U.S., punctuated by appalling mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Charleston, South Carolina; and Tucson, Arizona, among many others. After Newtown, Obama sought far-reaching, bipartisan legislation that went beyond background checks.
When the effort collapsed in the Senate, the White House said it was thoroughly researching the president’s powers to identify every legal step he could take on his own.
A more recent spate of gun-related atrocities – including in San Bernardino – have spurred the administration to give the issue another look, as Obama seeks to make good on a policy issue that he’s elevated time and again but has failed until now to advance.
Locally, gun store owner Jeff Brigman said tighter background checks will create new headaches for law-abiding citizens.
“Tighter background checks mean more mistakes,” he said. “To get off the prohibited list can cost tens of thousands of dollars when you have been inadvertently added, because a bureaucrat checked the wrong box.”
Still, he believed that the executive order will boost sales at his store.
While some social media users took to Twitter to criticize Obama’s “crocodile tears” while discussing the Sandy Hook massacre, Margot Bennett, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, said the President should not be criticized for his emotions.
“If you can talk about the slaugher of 20 children without getting emotional I’d say the problem is with that person, not with the President,” she said.
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