President Obama announced a series of executive actions to fight gun violence today by, among other things, attempting to clamp down on unlicensed firearms dealers who exploit an exception for hobbyists and collectors in order to avoid having to run criminal background checks on customers.
Legally, anyone who is “engaged in the business” of firearms sales with the “principal objective of livelihood and profit” is required to get a dealer’s license from the federal government, which requires them to check into customer’s past before making a sale.
Obama’s executive order clarifies that people who sell firearms over the Internet or at a gun show also may be designated as dealers and, therefore, required to obtain a license.
While the president did not set a specific threshold for the number of firearms a person can sell without a license, as some gun control opponents worried prior to the announcement, a fact sheet released by the White House noted that “courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place.”
Arizona gun dealers said the action didn't amount to much.
"Basically, he's saying: 'You have to have a license to be a dealer,'" said Cheryl Todd, co-owner of the Avondale-based gun shop AZfirearms.com. "Uh, yeah. I don't get what's different."
AZfirearms.com sells guns in store, online, and at gun shows and conducts the same thorough screening process regardless of location, said Mark Todd, who co-owns the store with his wife. In-store and at gun shows, people must produce a government-issued photo ID, undergo a federal background check, and then, if approved, can take the gun home after a three-day waiting period. If the store sells a gun online, AZfirearms.com ships the gun to a licensed firearms dealer near their home, who will then conduct a federal background check before handing over the merchandise.
"He may be going to enforce the rules now, which is not a bad thing," he said. "But, really, Obama just put a lot of drama out there and really didn't do anything."
Indeed, Obama also announced plans to ramp up the enforcement of laws controlling firearm sales.
The FBI will upgrade its background check system by hiring 230 people to process requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget also will include funding to hire 200 new agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking.
Arizona GOP Congressman Matt Salmon condemned the president for sidestepping Congress "like a Central American dictator," arguing that the executive orders wouldn't have done anything to avert the "senseless killing" in San Bernardino December 2, when a husband-and-wife team open fired at a holiday party and felled 14 people.
“To say this speech presented solutions would be an overstatement," he said. "Beyond the president’s condescending tone, Americans are no closer to security with these changes (were they legal) than without them."
Gun control advocates, however, were happy with the changes.
While Gerry Hills, founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Arizonans for Gun Safety, acknowledged that Obama's action did little to expand background checks, she said she felt he "went as far as he could with his limited abilities."
In particular, she was pleased with the president's plan to update the administrative process of conducting background checks, which she described as an "old-fashioned paper system that's physically overwhelmed because of a lack of man power." Because of clerical backup, she said, some 100,000 domestic violence restraining orders are missing from the government's system.
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011, took to Twitter to thank the president for “standing up to the gun lobby when Congress won’t."
33 Americans are murdered w/ a gun every day. And Congress has done nothing. Today’s responsible actions by @POTUS will save lives.— Gabrielle Giffords (@GabbyGiffords) January 5, 2016
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Giffords' gun control advocacy group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, recently conducted a survey that found 73 percent of voters support an executive action by President Obama that would require "anyone who sells a large number of guns per year to become a licensed gun dealer," as well as require background checks on all of their gun sales, including those sold online or at gun shows. Support was high even among groups traditionally more reticent about gun control, the group found. Sixty-four percent of gun owners and 56 percent of people who are "favorably disposed toward the National Rifle Association" said they supported executive action.
Her husband, Mark Kelly, who consulted with Obama while he was developing his plan, called the executive order "a really strong move in the right direction."
"It's going to address a lot of sales of firearms that are currently done without a background check," he said, during a conference call with the press. "In theory and in practice it will stop convicted felons, domestic abusers, and people who are mentally ill from getting a gun."