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WASH POST: Obama seriously considering circumventing Congress...

WASH POST: Obama seriously considering circumventing Congress...

by Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST

In response to the latest mass shooting during his presidency, President Obama is seriously considering circumventing Congress with his executive authority and imposing new background-check requirements for buyers who purchase weapons from high-volume gun dealers.

Under the proposed rule change, dealers who exceed a certain number of sales each year would be required to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and perform background checks on potential buyers.

As the president heads to Roseburg, Ore., on Friday to comfort the survivors and families of those killed in last week’s mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, the political calculus around his most vexing domestic policy issue is shifting once again.

After the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., claimed the lives of 20 students and six staff members, Obama asked Vice President Biden to devise a list of policy proposals in response, and on Jan. 26, 2013, the president announced 23 executive actions ranging from restarting federal research into the causes of gun violence to providing parity for mental health coverage under private insurance plans. He pushed for legislation mandating universal background checks on gun sales, an effort that failed in the Senate in April 2013. In August that year, Obama closed two gun-sale loopholes through executive authority, subjecting gun purchases by corporations and trusts to background checks and banning almost all re-imports of military surplus firearms to private entities.

In the wake of last week’s tragedy, Obama said he had asked his team “to scrub what kinds of authorities do we have to enforce the laws that we have in place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

“We are hopeful we can find a way to do this,” said one senior administration official, who noted that lawyers were still working through details to ensure that the rule could pass legal muster. “It’s a lot more clear today than it was a year ago how to work this out.”

Nine days before a shooter opened fire on the Umpqua Community College campus, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly, were at the White House to reiterate a long-standing request that those private dealers who sell a sizable number of guns conduct background checks on buyers. The proposed rule change would clarify what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms.

In a meeting with Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Giffords and Kelly, who became gun-control activists after Giffords was seriously wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, were pushing for a regulatory change that administration officials considered — but then shelved — nearly two years ago.

The proposed executive action aims to impose background checks on individuals who buy from dealers who sell a significant number of guns each year. The current federal statute dictates that those who are “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms need to obtain a federal license — and, therefore, conduct background checks — but exempts anyone “who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”

White House officials drafted the proposal in late 2013 to apply to those dealers who sell at least 50 guns annually, after Congress had rejected legislation that would have expanded background checks more broadly to private sellers. While the White House Office of Legal Counsel and then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. initially concluded the regulation was legally defensible, according to several individuals involved in the discussions, some federal lawyers remained concerned that setting an arbitrary numerical threshold could leave the rule vulnerable to a challenge.

ATF officials, moreover, objected that it would be hard to enforce and that it was unclear how many sellers would be affected by the change. “Everyone realized it would be hugely politically controversial,” said one individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.

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