Obama Administration Weighs Executive Action On Gun Background Checks

Dustin Wicksell - Author

Oct. 9 2015, Updated 9:43 a.m. ET

Following the latest mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, President Obama is reportedly weighing a major gun control proposal that would expand the number of dealers required to conduct background checks when selling a weapon.

The proposal would establish new guidelines regarding who is legally considered a licensed gun dealer, according to NBC News. Licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks on potential buyers, and the new guidelines would reportedly define any retailer who sells a number of guns above a certain threshold as “in the business” of gun sales. These retailers would then be subject to the same laws regarding background checks which apply to current gun dealers.

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One administration official familiar with the new proposal has admitted that it is “a super-complicated policy.” While the administration has considered the sales of 50 or 100 guns each year as the threshold to trigger the definition of a gun dealer, no formal number has been settled upon.

The policy proposal is hardly new and was first considered in 2013 following the failure of a bill in the Senate that would have required background checks on almost all gun sales. The Obama Administration ultimately opted against implementing the proposal on the grounds they could face potential lawsuits challenging the legality of the president’s executive order. The administration was reportedly also wary of the complexity behind defining who is to be legally considered a gun dealer.

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The idea has received new consideration in the wake of the shooting at Umpqua Community College, which left nine victims dead. President Obama is scheduled to meet with the families of those victims on Friday, as the Washington Post reports. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton also helped renew interest in the measure, asserting on Monday that one of her top proposals to address gun violence would be evaluating the definition of who is legally considered a gun dealer.

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Gun control advocates have expressed fears that a growing number of weapons are sold outside of the background check process, thanks largely to loopholes which exempt online sales and those conducted at gun shows in many states. Little national data regarding gun sales currently exists, so it remains unclear how many transactions the Obama Administration’s proposal may ultimately affect.

Though the president has used his executive authority multiple times over the last several years to address a variety of issues, his order regarding immigration policy remains stymied by a protracted court battle. Administration officials have said that they expect any executive action regarding background checks for gun sales would be similarly opposed by conservatives.

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Sources assert that officials both at the White House and the Department of Justice have argued in favor of both the legality and propriety of such an executive order. Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly argued in favor of the background check measure when it was first considered, and he was still in office.

At the state level, gun control advocates have made significant political advances in recent years. Laws promoting the concealed carry of guns without a permit were defeated in 15 states over the last year (though enacted in three). In 2012, 72 percent of all gun laws enacted loosened ownership restrictions. So far this year, 55 percent of enacted laws have loosened restrictions, representing an advance even though a majority of legislation is still geared against gun control.

While the administration is continuing to contemplate expanded background checks for gun sales, aides have yet to reveal when President Obama will decide whether he will move forward with the proposal.

[Photo by Pool/ Getty Images]


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