This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published January 11, 2016 by PoliZette.
President Obama’s speech about his new gun control measures seemed to have it all: the sound and the fury — and even some tears.
While long on emotion, the speech did, however, lack one thing: substance. Taken together, all of the ballyhooed “executive actions” will do little to actually stop criminal gun violence.
Mr. Obama implied that the administration will broaden the definition of a dealer to include individuals who sell only a small number of guns. But that same federal statute says that you are not a dealer if you make only “occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby.”
If you fit this description, you don’t have to be licensed, nor does federal law require you to do a background check on your friends, family, or acquaintances to sell them a weapon — unless the person resides in another state. Of course, you can be prosecuted if you sell your gun to someone you have “reasonable cause to believe” is prohibited from owning a gun — like a felon.
And some states require a background check even for personal sales, adding significant costs to the sale. Whom does this affect the most? Poor, urban residents of high-crime areas, who need a gun to defend themselves.
The president implied that he wants to expand the licensing requirement beyond the statutory definition, forcing individuals who occasionally sell guns from their personal collections to get licenses and conduct backgrounds checks. If he does so, he will once again be acting outside the law.
The “fact sheet” released by the White House says that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will “clarify” that the license requirement applies no matter “where you conduct your business — from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet.” But this is no clarification; the statutory definition has never depended on where you sold your guns.
The president also wants funding for 200 more ATF agents, ostensibly to enforce existing gun laws. In Washington, it seems, nothing succeeds like incompetence. The scandal-ridden ATF is responsible for everything from the 1993 Waco fiasco to supplying Mexican drug cartels with over 2,000 weapons in Operation Fast & Furious, one of the most reckless law enforcement operations ever. A 2012 report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General found “a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters.” In fact, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced the ATF Elimination Act in 2014 to terminate this troubled agency and transfer its functions to the FBI and DEA. Mr. Obama wants to make it bigger.
Mr. Obama repeated his spurious claim that we are the “only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence.” (How quickly he forgets the “mass violence” of Nov. 13 that killed 130 and wounded hundreds more in Paris.) Researcher John Lott notes that, when one adjusts for population size, “many European countries actually suffer higher rates of death in mass public shootings.” All of those countries have much stricter gun control laws — including Norway, site of the largest mass killing by a lone gunman.
The president also claimed that guns can be bought over the Internet without a background check and gave the impression that background checks are required only at gun stores. Dishonest media reports to the contrary, there is no “gun show” loophole. Under federal law, all licensed gun dealers have to conduct backgrounds checks no matter where they sell their guns — at their stores, at their house, over the Internet, or at a gun show. Any “person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms” is a dealer under federal law (18 U.S.C. §921 (a)(11)), and many people who fit this definition but who have not obtained a license have been successfully prosecuted on that basis.
The president’s approach ignores several inconvenient facts. Gun-related deaths (except for suicide) have been steadily declining — even as gun ownership has rapidly expanded. The vast majority of guns sold in this country already require a background check, and the number of guns sold without a background check that are used in criminal activities is negligible. So President Obama is aiming the power of the federal government at an almost nonexistent problem, yet failing to take steps that could actually save lives — like stopping the influx of criminal aliens into the country who victimize (and all too often kill) the law-abiding citizens our commander-in-chief is sworn to protect.