Yesterday, President Obama delivered a 35-minute address on gun control (I have seen several references to Obama’s “press conference,” but reporters were not invited to the White House east room for the event and the president did not take any questions). Cato associate policy analyst David Kopel discussed Obama’s “executive actions” last night on PBS Newshour.
By way of background, Cato published a paper by Kopel titled, “The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control,” and we are in the process of getting it into the hands of both federal and state policymakers.
Back to Obama. According to the Washington Post, Obama and the ATF are merely clarifying existing law with respect to who must obtain a federal license to sell guns and conduct background checks. There is no “executive order” that changes existing law. Persons “engaged in the business” of selling arms must obtain a license. Persons who just sell once in a while do not need a license. So, for example, if someone loses interest in hunting and wants to sell his shotgun to a friend or neighbor, no license is needed for that transaction. An ATF pamphlet released yesterday makes it a bit clearer who it considers “engaged in the business” for persons who fall in the gray area. That non-change has been hailed as the big change.
The media is mostly right that all the executive actions are modest–and it is true that some of the GOP presidential candidates have overreacted by suggesting that whatever Obama has done must be reversed just as soon as they get into the Oval Office. However, it must be noted that Obama points to the gun control policies of other countries, such as Australia and Great Britain, as models for the USA. Kopel’s paper points out those countries have confiscated the weapons of citizens. Obama also admits we’ll see more shooting sprees and that more gun control regulations are desirable. Indeed, Hillary Clinton is making gun control a centerpiece of her promised domestic agenda if elected. Add that up, and it seems safe to say that the gun control debate is not going away.