President Obama has finally announced his long-awaited gun control executive orders. A good outline of the provisions can be read here.
Some of these initiatives are relatively non-controversial. For example, the Obama administration will ask Congress for 200 additional ATF agents to help enforce gun laws. It’s proposing hiring an additional 230 FBI staffers to help conduct background checks and meet higher demand for firearms. There’s also a provision to require Federal Firearm License (FFL) holders who ship guns to customers to report any that are missing or stolen in transit to authorities.
However, most of these provisions will be hotly debated and likely contested in court. Here are some of them:
Closing the “gun show loophole”: The Obama administration will tighten the definition of who is a “gun dealer.” According to existing federal law, anyone “engaged in the business of selling firearms” must have a Federal Firearms License. The administration will not set a limit on how many guns can be sold without a license, but will look at other factors like whether or not the seller takes credit cards or has printed business cards. One “loophole” being addressed is those licensed to buy and collect “curios and relics,” which are firearms that are over 50 years old. C&R buyers can get a license from the ATF after passing a background check to buy old guns. The administration is worried that dealers are using the C&R license to illegally sell guns.
Crackdown on corporations and trusts to buy NFA firearms: National Firearms Act firearms are essentially machine guns manufactured before 1986, short barrel shotguns and rifles, and silencers. It’s become popular in recent years to form a “trust” to buy machine guns because they’re extremely expensive and have become collectors items. The Obama administration is now going to require background checks and fingerprinting in order to purchase these machine guns. There have been no crimes in recent memory committed with an NFA machine gun.
Mental health provisions: The White House will ask Congress for $500 million for mental health care services. There will also be increased reporting to the background check system of those receiving Social Security disability benefits due to mental health issues. This does not take into account whether or not an illness is controlled or even if it poses a risk to the general public. Critics worry that the provision will discourage the mentally ill from seeking help.
Smart gun technology: The Obama administration has issued a memo to all government agencies that purchase firearms to research gun safety technology such as smart guns. In theory, smart guns can only be fired by their owners. However, the reason “smart guns” have not come on the market is because of gun control legislation.
Will these initiatives be effective? Most likely the answer is no. Nearly all the guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally and would not have been stopped by these orders. The stolen gun provisions might have an impact on gun violence and violent crime, but it will likely be a modest one.
The aim of these executive orders is political. Democrats would love to have this issue to run on in 2016. Now you’re probably asking yourself why that’s the case, since polling on gun rights is moving against them.
The key to Democrats holding the White House in 2016 is keeping together the Obama coalition. There is growing chatter that Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, will not be able to do that. Gun control is an issue that’s strongly supported by most parts of the coalition, including blacks, Hispanics, women, city dwellers, and the highly educated. This is about trying to get that coalition back to the polls in support of Hillary.
Expect the same highly political approach to be taken to other issues before Obama leaves office next year.