Obama details executive action on gun restrictions
The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a series of new executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence and making some political headway on one of the most frustrating policy areas of President Obama’s tenure.
The package, which Obama plans to announce Tuesday, includes 10 separate provisions, White House officials said. One key provision would require more gun sellers — especially those who do business on the Internet and at gun shows — to be licensed and would force them to conduct background checks on potential buyers. Obama would devote $500 million more in federal funds to treating mental illness — a move that could require congressional approval — and require that firearms lost in transit between a manufacturer and a seller be reported to federal authorities.
At the president’s direction, the FBI will begin hiring more than 230 additional examiners and other personnel to help process new background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has established a new investigation center to keep track of illegal gun trafficking online and will devote $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they can’t hold America hostage. We can’t accept this carnage in our communities,” Obama said in a Twitter message Monday evening, referring to the National Rifle Association.
The president is scheduled to talk about his new policies in the East Room on Tuesday, and two days later he will participate in a town hall at George Mason University that will be televised on CNN.
Even before Obama’s official announcement, however, Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail blasted the actions, and some gun rights advocates threatened to challenge them in court.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) issued a statement Monday saying that even without knowing the plan’s details, he thinks “the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will. . . . This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Monday that he and his colleagues would “be taking a deep look at the president’s proposals, with an eye toward ensuring that the Second Amendment is preserved.”
Although modest compared with any legislation that Congress could adopt, Obama’s executive actions will affect areas such as how the federal government might leverage its purchasing power to advance “safe gun” technology as well as what information federal and local law enforcement will share on individuals who are illegally trying to purchase weapons.
The president, who went over the initiatives in the Oval Office on Monday with administration officials including Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and FBI Director James B. Comey, said inaction by Congress in the wake of several high-profile mass shootings and other gun-related violence justified his decision.
“And although it is my strong belief that for us to get our complete arm around the problem Congress needs to act, what I asked my team to do is to see what more we could do to strengthen our enforcement” to curb illegal gun sales, Obama said in brief remarks to reporters after the meeting. “And the good news is, is that these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they’re also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe in.”
One of the main provisions is new federal guidance requiring some occasional gun sellers to get licenses from ATF and conduct background checks on potential buyers. Rather than set a single threshold for what triggers this licensing requirement, it will be based on a mix of business activities such as whether the seller processes credit cards, rents tables at gun shows and has formal business cards.
In some cases, officials said, a person who sells a single gun could be required to get a license, though in other cases, sellers who are classified as hobbyists or collectors could still qualify for exemptions.
A recent survey of more than 2,000 gun owners by Harvard University researchers found that of those who purchased their most recent firearm, about a third did not undergo a background check.
In a conference call with reporters, Lynch said the administration could not estimate how many more people would be affected by the new licensing provisions. She said gun sales are increasingly moving online and into largely unregulated areas of the “dark Web” where illicit activities take place in hidden transactions.
“The industry is shifting and growing,” she said. “If it does stop one act of violence, this will be worth it.”
Other aspects of the president’s plan aim to bolster the FBI’s background-check system, including a push by the U.S. Digital Service to modernize its processing operations and a proposal to add 200 new ATF agents and investigators to bolster enforcement.
Obama will instruct federal agencies, which collectively represent the nation’s largest firearms purchaser, to “explore potential ways” to promote technology that would prevent the accidental discharge or unauthorized use of a gun, according to White House officials.
Another measure will require federally licensed gun dealers to report any lost and stolen guns to the National Crime Information Center. Over the past five years, according to the White House, an average of 1,333 guns recovered in criminal investigations each year were traced back to a seller who claimed the weapon was missing but did not report it to authorities.
“This is a broad set of actions that tackles a variety of the issues related to gun violence,” said Arkadi Gerney, a senior fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, “and in combination it represents a comprehensive effort to strengthen the laws we already have on the books.”
Although the number of mass shootings in the United States has risen in recent years, overall gun violence is at lower levels than in previous decades. Obama, however, emphasized that gun deaths in the United States remain higher than in other developed countries in almost every category, including suicides.
“And although we have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country, it’s not going to prevent every mass shooting, it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal,” he said, “it will potentially save lives and spare families the pain and the extraordinary loss they’ve suffered as a consequence of a firearm getting in the hands of the wrong people.”
Obama’s determination to act in his final year in office comes after he pledged last fall to make guns a political issue after a gunman killed 10 and wounded seven others at a community college in Roseburg, Ore. The president has made public statements after at least 16 mass shootings during his presidency, including the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., last month by a married couple, reportedly inspired by the Islamic State.
His administration failed to persuade lawmakers to approve tighter legislative controls on gun sales in 2013, in the wake of the December 2012 killings of 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. After that, the president issued a series of 23 executive actions to tighten controls and increase safety preparations, and he added two more in subsequent years.
But the White House was moved to act again after the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. Administration lawyers have spent months reviewing various proposals to ensure that the redefinition of what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms can withstand legal challenges.
“The law has long been fuzzy, and the transition of gun sales away from brick-and-mortar stores to gun shows and the Internet requires the administration to clarify the definition,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who met with Obama along with other lawmakers on Monday. “By forcing more dealers at gun shows to run background checks, there will be less criminals that buy guns and less illegal guns sold on the streets of America.”
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview Monday that it was “a historic step” that would subject thousands of gun sales each day to stricter scrutiny.
One dilemma for the Obama administration would be that a legal fight could put the executive actions on hold as a court deliberates, potentially dragging out the process until Obama leaves office next January. The president’s executive actions to defer the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants, announced in 2014, have been held up in a legal battle that could head to the Supreme Court this spring.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they try,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked whether gun rights advocates would mount a legal challenge, “but the arguments we could mobilize in a court of law would be powerful and persuasive.”
Obama’s plans already have resonated on the presidential campaign.
Every GOP presidential candidate who has spoken about Obama’s potential actions has vowed to reverse the executive order if elected president, underscoring the fragility of any initiative that has not won congressional approval.
[Cruz vows to repeal any executive action on guns]
Speaking at a Christian bookstore Monday in Boone, Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the idea “illegal and unconstitutional,” a theme echoed by several of his colleagues in recent days.
On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told an audience in Raymond, N.H., that Obama “has waged war on the Constitution.”
“You can pass all the gun laws in the world that you want,” he said. “It will not stop the criminals.”
But Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton applauded Obama during a campaign stop in Iowa on Monday, saying she would go even further as president, and White House officials remained confident that public opinion is on their side.
“We are dedicated to doing everything we can to get guns out of the wrong hands,” said senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. “We’ve talked to so many gun owners who don’t believe the NRA represents their views.”
The Senate Goes Gaga on Guns
Would it be absolutely cynical to say the Senate responded to what appears to be a terrorist mass shooting by declining to ban the sale of guns to people on the terrorist watch list?
Nah. Let’s go for it.
This week the Senate voted on two proposals to toughen the nation’s gun regulations in the wake of the San Bernardino murders. The other one would have tightened loopholes in the background-check law that are currently the size of the Pacific Ocean. Both failed on basically party-line votes.
“It was a huge victory that there was a vote at all,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in a telephone conference call. We normally celebrate winners in this country, but let’s remember the people who keep trudging toward a noble goal at the top of the political mountain, oblivious to perpetual landslides. History will someday reward them. Meanwhile, if you run into a member of the gun control lobby, give him or her a hug.
How, you may ask, could anybody be against depriving terrorism suspects of the right to bear arms? Well, the F.B.I. watch list has, in the past, included some names through bureaucratic error. The question is which remote possibility you regard as worse: letting a terrorist buy a gun or temporarily depriving a person who is not a terrorist of the right to acquire weaponry. Most people in the Senate, it turns out, are way more worried about making a nonterrorist wait to get his armaments. Senator John Cornyn of Texas called it “un-American.”
It’s always the same story. The San Bernardino murderers were wielding assault rifles, with which they were able to fire an estimated 65-75 bullets in rapid succession. Assault weapons, which seem to be the armament of choice for mass shootings, used to be illegal under a law that expired in 2004. If the law had stayed on the books, how many victims would have survived in San Bernardino, or at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.? Given the fact that semiautomatic weapons are totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense, some of us would love to trade them for the possibility of reduced casualties next time somebody decides to go on a rampage.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is an excellent example of the politicians who totally disagree. Last time an assault weapons ban came up, he argued that Americans should not be forced to rely on regular slowpoke rifles “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”
Graham is currently a candidate for president and he is actually not any crazier on this subject than most of the other Republican contenders. Although possibly a little more gloomy.
The National Rifle Association got to the power perch it holds today by being passionately irrational and intransigent, and politicians follow their lead. Gun control supporters know their voters generally want reasonable controls, not a universal ban on bullets, so they try to show how evenhanded they are on the matter. (“I am not a hunter. But I have gone hunting,” said Hillary Clinton in 2008, reminiscing about the days when her dad taught her how to shoot at Lake Winola outside of Scranton, Pa.) But the opponents try for insane intensity. When the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a very modest bill that raised penalties on “straw purchasers” — people who buy guns in order to give them to someone barred from making the purchase — Senator Cornyn expressed concern that it could “make it a serious felony for an American Legion employee to negligently transfer a rifle or firearm to a veteran who, unknown to the transferor, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
People, how many of you are worried about the negligent transferor? But the argument obviously worked, since the bill — which was aimed at purchasers who get guns for convicted felons — never even came up for a vote.
In response to the San Bernardino shootings, the Brady Campaign released a video reminder that an Al Qaeda spokesman, the American-born Adam Yahiye Gadahn, had once urged supporters in the west to take advantage of the fact that “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms.” Mr. Gross vowed that the Brady folk would be “calling out the senators who basically agree with Jihad Joe.”
That presumes that the senators are more afraid of being lumped with Al Qaeda than they are afraid of ticking off the N.R.A. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a contest.
Continued Bipartisan Support for Expanded Background Checks on Gun Sales
More Polarized Views of the NRA’s Influence
Two years after the failure of Senate legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases, the public continues to overwhelmingly support making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. Currently, 85% of Americans – including large majorities of Democrats (88%) and Republicans (79%) – favor expanded background checks, little changed from May 2013 (81%).
The latest Pew Research Center poll of 2,002 adults, conducted July 14-20, finds that opinions about other gun policy proposals also are largely unchanged from two years ago, shortly after the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Nearly eight-in-ten (79%) favor laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns, 70% back the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales, while a smaller majority (57%) supports a ban on assault-style weapons.
Almost identical shares of Republicans (81%) and Democrats (79%) support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. But other proposals are more divisive: 85% of Democrats favor creation of a database for the federal government to track gun sales, compared with 55% of Republicans. And while 70% of Democrats back an assault-weapons ban, only about half of Republicans (48%) favor this proposal.
While there is broad support for several specific gun policy proposals – and opinion on these measures has not changed significantly since 2013 – the public continues to be more evenly divided in fundamental attitudes about whether it is more important to control gun ownership or to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
Currently, 50% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 47% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
Since December 2014, when support for gun rights reached a two-decade high, the share prioritizing gun rights has fallen five percentage points, while the percentage saying it is more important to control gun ownership has increased four points.
The balance of opinion on whether it is more important to control gun ownership or protect gun rights has been more closely divided in recent years than it was in the early 2000s or 1990s. From 1993-2008, majorities said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun rights. (For more on long-term attitudes on gun control and gun rights, see “A Public Opinion Trend that Matters: Priorities for Gun Policy,” Jan. 9, 2015.)
There continues to be a substantial partisan gap in opinions about whether it is more important to control gun ownership or protect gun rights – much larger, in fact, than the gap over specific gun proposals. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats (73%) say it is more important to control gun ownership; 71% of Republicans say it is more important to protect gun rights.
As previous Pew Research Center surveys have found, there is broad support for expanded background checks even from those who say it is more important to protect gun rights than to control gun ownership.
About eight-in-ten (82%) of those who say it is more important to protect gun rights favor expanded background checks on private gun sales, as do 88% of those who prioritize controlling gun ownership.
Similarly, support for laws preventing the mentally ill from buying guns draw comparable levels of support from those who prioritize protecting gun rights (82%) and those who say it is more important to control gun ownership (77%).
However, those who say it is more important to control gun ownership are 31 percentage points more likely than those who prioritize gun rights to favor a government database to track gun sales (85% v s. 54%), and 30 points more likely to support an assault weapons (71% vs. 41%).
The survey finds that overall public views of the political influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) have not changed much in recent years. But they have become more politically and ideologically polarized.
Currently, 40% say the NRA has too much influence over gun control laws in this country, 17% say it has too little influence, while 36% say it has the right amount of influence. This balance of opinion is virtually unchanged from May 2013. In fact, it is also comparable to opinion about the NRA’s influence in 2000.
However, there are wider differences in how conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats see the NRA’s influence. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, just 13% of conservatives say the NRA has too much influence, down from 32% in 2000. By contrast, 68% of liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners say the organization has too much influence, compared with 57% who said this in 2000.
Views of Gun Policy Proposals
Support for expanded background checks and laws preventing the mentally ill from buying guns spans all partisan and demographic groups. In addition, both proposals are favored by majorities of those in households that have guns and those that do not.
There are wider demographic differences over the creation of a federal database for gun sales and banning assault weapons. While 66% of whites favor a federal database to track gun sales, this proposal draws more support from blacks (82%) and Hispanics (76%).
Support for an assault weapons ban varies by gender and education, as well as by gun ownership and community type. Nearly two-thirds of women (65%) favor banning assault weapons compared with 48% of men. Those with post-graduate degrees are among the most likely groups to favor a ban on these weapons (72%), while only about half of those with a high school degree or less education favor such a ban (48%).
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those who live in households with no guns favor a ban on assault weapons, compared with 49% in gun-owning households.
Opinions About Gun Control, Gun Rights
Currently, 50% of Americans say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 47% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns. That represents a shift since December 2014, when more prioritized protecting gun rights (52%) than controlling gun ownership (46%).
The issue remains a highly partisan one. Republicans choose gun rights over gun control by a 71% to 26% margin, while Democrats prioritize gun control over gun rights by a 73% to 25% margin.
Guns also continue to divide the public along racial and gender lines. Whites say it is more import to protect gun rights, by 57% to 40%. Majorities of Hispanics (75%) and blacks (72%) say it is more important to control gun ownership.
The balance of opinion among men favors gun rights over gun control (52% to 45%). By contrast, women give controlling gun ownership higher priority than protecting gun rights (55% vs. 42%)
By nearly a two-to-one margin (63% to 32%), adults with post-graduate degrees say it is more important to control gun ownership than protect gun rights. A majority of college graduates (54%) prioritizes gun control, while 42% prioritize gun rights. Those with less education are divided (51% protect gun rights, 47% control gun ownership).
Among people who live in urban areas, 60% say it is more important to control gun ownership, compared with 38% who prioritize gun rights. Opinion among suburban residents is divided (48% gun control, 48% gun rights), while a majority (63%) who live in rural areas prioritize gun rights.
Views of Impact of Gun Ownership on Personal Safety
A majority of Americans (54%) say that gun ownership in this country does more to protect people from becoming victims of crime, while 40% say it does more to put people’s safety at risk. These findings are largely unchanged from December, when a 57% majority said owning guns does more to protect people from crime.
Whites, by 60% to 35%, say gun ownership does more to protect people from crime than to put their personal safety at risk. Blacks by a similar margin (56% to 37%) say that gun ownership does more to endanger people’s personal safety.
While opinion among whites has changed little since December, more blacks now say gun ownership puts people’s safety at risk (41% then, 56% today). Attitudes among African Americans today are closer to those in December 2012, when 53% said guns create a safety risk and just 29% said guns do more to protect people from crime.
There also are gender, partisan and education differences in these opinions. Six-in-ten (60%) men say gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger safety, compared with 49% of women. Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to view gun ownership as doing more to protect people than place their safety at risk (74% of Republicans vs. 36% of Democrats).
Adults with post-graduate degrees are the only educational category in which a majority (57%) says gun ownership does more to put people’s safety at risk than to protect people from becoming crime victims. College graduates are divided (48% say they do more to put safety at risk, 46% to protect people from crime), while a majority (59%) of those with less education says gun ownership does more to protect people.
Study: States with more gun laws have less gun violence
New study by Boston Children’s Hospital finds that tougher laws on guns can have an affect on homicide and suicide rates
States with more gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths, according to a new study released Wednesday by Boston Children’s Hospital.
The leader investigator behind the research hopes the findings will drive legislators to pass gun reform across the country and increase federal funding to research on gun laws and violence. However, at least one critic argues that the study fails to take into account several important factors such as the types of laws, enforcement of laws, and gun ownership rates in states.
“Our research gives clear evidence that laws have a role in preventing firearms deaths,” said Eric Fleegler, the study’s lead investigator and a pediatric emergency doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Legislators should take that into consideration.”
Fleegler and researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health studied information from all 50 states between 2007 to 2010, analyzing all firearm-related deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and data on firearm laws compiled by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
States with the most laws had a mortality rate 42% lower than those states with the fewest laws, they found. The strong law states’ firearm-related homicide rate was also 40% lower and their firearm-related suicide rate was 37% lower.
Specifically, Fleeger pointed to states with many gun laws like Massachusetts, which had 3.4 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, and New Jersey, which had 4.9 gun-deaths per 100,000 people. Conversely, he focused on states with less laws like Louisiana, which had 18 deaths per 100,000 individuals and Alaska, which had 17.5 deaths per 100,000 individuals.
The study also found that laws requiring universal background checks and permits to purchase firearms were most clearly associated with decreasing rates of gun-related homicides and suicides.
Despite the findings, researchers did not establish a cause and effect relationship between guns and deaths. Rather, they could only establish an association.
That failure illustrates the limits of the study, said Garen Wintemute, an emergency physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
“Policy makers can really draw no conclusion from this study,” Wintemute said, explaining that the study doesn’t provide critical answers to which laws work and why.
The larger problem is that the United States effectively stopped doing research on gun laws and violence 15 years ago and now has no evidence that shows causes and effect, he said.
Wintemute added, however, that he believes gun policies are important and can drive rates of violence down. In the future, researchers must look at how several factors including culture, gun ownership, and gun trafficking between states, he said.
Fleegler and his colleagues became interested in the relationship between gun laws and deaths last summer after the Trayvon Martin case sparked conversations about self-defense laws and the use of guns.
Trayvon, 17, was shot dead in a gated Florida community by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman, who has plead not guilty to a second-degree murder charge, is claiming self-defense.
“There is very minimal research going on and very minimal funding for the research that is going gone,” Fleegler said. “We need to understand these relationships so that we can take action.”