Obama Broadening Background Check Requirements for Gun Sellers

Obama to Push to Close Gun Control Loophole
  • Administration plans to expand definition of firearms dealer
  • Moves would also increase mental health reporting from states

The Obama administration is broadening the definition of who qualifies as a gun dealer as part of a package of executive actions intended to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

The steps, announced by the White House Monday, include directing federal prosecutors to focus on enforcement of existing gun laws and funding for more agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The administration will set new rules to ensure dealers report stolen or lost firearms and remove some legal barriers to reporting on mental health issues for the purposes of background checks.

President Barack Obama, who has repeatedly expressed frustration with gun violence in the U.S., will talk about the steps during an appearance at the White House on Tuesday. “Guns now kill as many people as cars in almost half of the U.S. We can’t stop every act of violence, but we can save lives if we act,” Obama wrote in a Twitter message Monday evening

Potentially the most contentious piece of Obama’s latest gun initiative is redefining who is a gun dealer. The plan targets small-scale gun sellers, who may conduct transactions from home, a gun show or via the Internet and aren’t required to hold a license or submit buyers’ names for federal background checks.

‘Magic Number’

The law doesn’t set a specific threshold for the number of guns bought or sold that would require registration as a gun dealer. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, said on a conference call Monday that there is no “magic number” of gun sales. Criteria might include whether firearms are sold in original packaging, or whether the transaction is conducted via a credit card.

The main goal, she said, was to put more buyers through background checks to determine whether they have a criminal record or are barred from buying a weapon because of mental illness. The administration will hire additional staff to conduct background checks and modernize the system.

According to the FBI, the agency’s National Instant Background Check System processed 23.1 million firearms background checks in 2015. That was 2.2 million more background checks than the previous year, and an all-time record for the agency.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the ATF will issue guidance that will have “clear, definitive standards” that will define who qualifies as a gun dealer and thus must be licensed and conduct criminal background checks before a sale. She said it is “impossible to predict right now how many additional dealers will register.”

Obama also is directing the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research on gun safety technology.

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