President Obama Hits the Target on Gun Control
On January 5, in response to the slew of mass shootings in 2015, President Obama issued a series of executive actions intended to curb gun violence. These executive actions will increase funding of research into safer gun technology, enable the FBI to hire 230 additional personnel to run background checks, require the administration to enforce stricter rules for reporting guns lost during transfers, and issue guidance that expands background checks.
Yet, these criticisms begin to appear groundless upon closer scrutiny. In fact, not only are President Obama’s executive actions legal, but they also stand to significantly reduce gun violence.
Critics who claim that President Obama’s executive actions are unconstitutional have focused predominantly on the provision that strengthens background checks, claiming that it violates the Second Amendment and represents an abuse of executive power. Nevertheless, according to Dave Kopel, a Second Amendment expert at the Independence Institute, the provision “loudly restates what the existing law is” in essence.
In 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act mandated that firearm sellers who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms must conduct background checks. Under the current law, these people are loosely defined as those who devote “time, attention, and labor to dealing with firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit.” Although private-party sellers who are Internet dealers or self-proclaimed hobbyists may devote extensive “time, attention, and labor to dealing with firearms as a regular course of trade,” current legislation does not explicitly place Internet dealers and self-proclaimed hobbyists into the definition of those who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. As a matter of fact, Internet dealers and self-proclaimed hobbyists can claim any time that they are not attempting to make a living out of selling firearms. By virtue of this logic, these private-party sellers have been able to avoid having to conduct background checks.
While restating the provision endorsed by the Brady Act that “anyone who is ‘engaged in the business’ of selling firearms is licensed and conducts background checks on their customers,” President Obama has clearly stated that private-party sellers too qualify as those “engaged in the business” of selling guns and, as a result, must conduct background checks.
Since President Obama’s executive actions act only to clarify past legislation, he is by no means acting outside of his executive power. In fact, the President reserves the power to make existing legislative standards “coherent and clear,” so his executive actions cannot be more constitutional.
As to efficiency, President Obama’s expansion of background checks will reduce gun violence by retrenching the number of unregulated private sales of firearms.
According to a study in 2013 by Johns Hopkins University, nearly 80% of criminals who used firearms had acquired them from private-party sales. In such a context, applying background checks on those who purchase firearms through private-party sales could effectively reduce the amount of gun-related crimes.
What’s more, President Obama’s executive actions will also more than double the staff that conducts background checks to ensure the improvement of screening.
Currently, under federal law, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has to investigate individuals who intend to buy firearms, and a 72-hour hold is placed on their sales. But, after 72 hours, sales can go through even if the background checks have not been completed.
The loopholes in this 72-hour rule and a severely underfunded and understaffed NICS meant that the NICS in the past few years could not prevent firearms from going to many of the perpetrators of mass shootings, including Dylann Roof of the Charleston Church shootings. Although President Obama’s expansion of the NICS staff will not forestall all future incidents of mass shootings, it will dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution.
After all, critics of President Obama’s executive actions should refrain from carping on that their guns will be taken away. It’s time for them to realize what President Obama is really shooting down: gun violence in America.