Obama initiative on gun control shows limits of flying solo


By Josh Lederman ,AP

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama’s do-it-himself plan for keeping guns away from those who shouldn’t have them falls far short of what he’d hoped to accomplish through legislation after a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School shook the country in 2012.

Yet even the more modest steps Obama will announce Tuesday rely on murky interpretations of existing law that could be easily reversed by his successor.

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, California, 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.

At the centerpiece of Obama’s plan, to be unveiled at a White House event with gun violence victims, is a broader definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of gun sales subject to background checks. At gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers, but officials said new federal guidance would clarify that it applies to anyone “in the business” of selling firearms.

They put sellers on notice that the government planned to beef up enforcement — including with 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks.

“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said. Yet he said the steps would “potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other top officials declined to explain why Obama hadn’t taken these steps years ago and whether the administration had contemplated these actions in the past but determined Obama didn’t have the authority.

“We’re very comfortable that the president can legally take these actions now,” said Lynch.