This week, President Obama announced a package of proposals with the ostensible goal of stemming gun crime in America. Unfortunately, however, the proposals represent a mishmash of ideas that lack a solid logical nexus to the problems they’re being offered to solve. President Obama even acknowledged this incongruity himself when he admitted that the tragic shootings he emotionally invoked would not have been prevented by his recommendations.
But faced with a Congress that fundamentally disagrees with the president’s views on gun control, his authority to act is limited, and these proposals are proof. The full “Executive Action” plan released by the White House can be found here, but I thought it would be useful to sum up the major points.
“Engaged in the Business” of Selling Firearms
One of the primary goals of the Obama Administration has been expanding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The president and his gun-control allies have long called for universal checks in order to close the (non-existent) “gunshow loophole,” but Congress has thus far refused to go along (and for good reason).
Still, the president gave the impression during his remarks that he would use his executive authority to expand the background check system by reconsidering what it means for people to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. For almost 50 years, the ATF regulations have interpreted this somewhat vague phrase by distinguishing those who sell guns commercially as a means of livelihood and those non-commercial sellers who transfer the odd gun every so often. Commercial sellers are required to perform background checks through the NICS system, while non-commercial private sellers are subject to a federal statute requiring that the transferor not know or have reason to know that the recipient of the weapon is prohibited from having it. Every transfer, in other words, is currently regulated by federal law. The only difference is which law applies.
While President Obama’s announcement and the action plan released along with it suggested a move to broaden the category of transferors that are required to put customers through the NICS system, it’s not clear that there has been any change at all.
As Jonathan Adler writes at The Washington Post, there hasn’t been a new ATF rule issued making any substantive change to the government’s interpretation of what it means to be “engaged in the business.” The criteria President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave for how they would be assessing whether someone is engaged in the business of selling firearms closely mirror language the ATF included in a recently issued “guidance document.”