At a glance: Obama’s recent executive actions on guns

Updated: February 11, 2016 - 11:37 am

Under Fire: A Special Report on Gun Violence

More than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence across the country in the past decade, according to statistics from the White House.

President Barack Obama said the violence has become so routine that the country has become numb to it.

“Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns — 30,000,” the president said before outlining his executive actions aimed at preventing gun violence earlier this year. “Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. Many have learned to live with a disability, or learned to live without the love of their life.”

The president’s actions clarify federal law to ensure that anyone engaged in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks. There is no threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement, according to a White House fact sheet. Courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two guns were sold. 

Someone who engages in the business of selling firearms without the required license can face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  

The FBI is also overhauling the background check system to make it more efficient. Improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week and improving the notification of local authorities when a person banned from owning guns tries to by one, according to a White House fact sheet. In 2015, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) received more than 22.2 million background check requests — an average of 63,000 a day.  

The president’s 2017 budget also includes funding for 200 new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearm (ATF) agents to help with better enforcement of gun laws. 

The Obama administration has also proposed $500 million in new spending to increase access to mental health care. The Social Security Administration has proposed including information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are banned from owning a firearm for mental health reasons. 

The president has also directed the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security departments to conduct or sponsor research into new gun safety technology that could help reduce the number of accidental discharges or unauthorized use of firearms and help trace lost or stolen guns. 

In a statement on its website, the Minnesota Gun Owners Lobby noted that what the president has proposed in terms of requiring people in the business of selling guns to get a license, is already the law and that other actions will likely have little impact on reducing gun violence. 

“At last, President Obama has unveiled his long-promised ‘I have a pen and a phone’ list of actions he wants to take, unilaterally, to single-handedly take on the straw man of ‘gun violence,’” the organization posted on its website. “What it turns out to be is a combination of sternly-worded memos, budget proposals Congress will ignore, restatements of existing law, and a few proposed rules likely to face considerable opposition.” 

Meanwhile, Protect Minnesota, an organization focused on ending gun violence, commended the president for his actions.
“The president is carrying out his Constitutional duty to enforce existing gun laws for the safety of our communities,” said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota. “This is a positive step. Anybody against this is against basic responsibility when dealing with firearms.”

As for the action requiring all people engaged in the business of selling firearms get a federal license, she said that the clarification of the law is an important step. 

“This might seem like a no-brainer. But if you go to a gun show, you will find glaring inconsistency in the enforcement of background checks,” she said. “Federally licensed dealers have to conduct background checks on buyers. So-called ‘private sellers’ don’t. Even if you see them at gun shows, week after week, selling firearms. It’s about time we stopped that charade.” 

She noted that law enforcement shut down a trafficking operation in Minnesota that was buying guns from “private sellers” and supplying them to gangs in the Twin Cities. 

“Wherever there’s a loophole to make it easy to avoid a background check, someone exploits it,” she said.