Obama Unveils Modest Plan to Expand Background Checks, Republicans Decry ‘Dangerous’ Overreach

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Obama and Attorney Genral Loretta Lynch discuss the gun proposal in the Oval Office.Photo: JIM WATSON

After teasing his new executive action on guns for days, on Monday President Obama unveiled his plan to enact new gun-control measures without going through Congress. White House officials told the Washington Post that the plan, which will be formally announced on Tuesday, involves ten provisions. The measures include the hiring of 230 additional FBI employees to process background checks 24/7, new efforts to track guns that are lost or stolen, improvements to the information in the background-check system, and an additional $500 million in federal funding for treating mental illness.

The biggest and most controversial provision aims to close the “gun show loophole” by fleshing out the definition of who must apply for a federal-dealers license. Under the plan, anyone “in the business” of selling guns — even if they do so online or at gun shows — would need a license, and thus be required to conduct background checks on potential buyers. What exactly makes one a gun seller is unclear; according to the Post the licensing requirement “will be based on a mix of business activities such as whether the seller processes credit cards, rents tables at gun shows and has formal business cards.”

Obama vowed to revisit the gun-control issue after ten people were killed in a shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, last year, but his latest proposals are far more modest than those he pushed following the 2012 Newtown massacre. Following the killing of 20 first graders, the president issued 23 executive actions intended to curb gun violence, but a bipartisan push to expand background checks (and close gun show and online loopholes) failed in Congress.

Obama will promote the plan throughout the week, and on Monday afternoon he told reporters in the Oval Office that he’s confident his latest actions will stand up to legal scrutiny. “Although it is my strong belief that for us to get our complete arm around the problem Congress needs to act, what I asked my team to do is to see what more we could do to strengthen our enforcement” to reduce illegal gun sales, Obama said. “And the good news is, 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 in.”

Of course, most GOP leaders are not in that “overwhelming majority,” and they began complaining about Obama’s new gun-control effort though they didn’t know exactly what he was proposing. Hours before the White House unveiled the details, House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that “the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will … This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it.”

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley added that he and other members of Congress would “be taking a deep look at the president’s proposals, with an eye toward ensuring that the Second Amendment is preserved.”

By the time White House officials described the plan on Monday night, all of the GOP candidates had vowed to reverse whatever executive action Obama was proposing. In Iowa, Ted Cruz called Obama’s plan “illegal and unconstitutional,” and Marco Rubio said during a speech in New Hampshire that the measures would only take away the rights of “law-abiding citizens, not the criminals or terrorists who target them.” And in a Monday morning interview with CNN, Donald Trump declared, “Well, pretty soon, you won’t be able to get guns. I mean, it’s another step in the way of not getting guns.”

Surprisingly, the National Rifle Association was completely underwhelmed by Obama’s plan (though they said they’ll carefully consider its legality). “This is it, really?” asked Jennifer Baker, who works for the NRA’s D.C. lobbying arm. “This is what they’ve been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything.”