Obama's 2016 executive actions did not close the gun show loophole, did not overstep Congress - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Obama’s 2016 executive actions did not close the gun show loophole, did not overstep Congress

When President Obama outlined his executive actions on gun control and followed up his speech by sitting down for an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, he insisted that he is “closing” the gun show loophole and expanding background checks online.

He’s not.

While technically Obama is “closing” the loophole – it is getting smaller – he’s not closing it all the way. Because he was telling the truth when he told Cooper that this wasn’t new legislation, the loophole actually remains.

This means the president’s actions aren’t as thorough as they seem to most Americans, particularly when it comes to online sales, but it also takes a lot of the steam out of the ultra-conservative argument that Obama has overstepped Congress and the legislative process and is working by his own set of rules.

What is the loophole?

Some people argue that an alleged gun show loophole doesn’t even exist. Gun shows they’ve visited have required federal background checks from federally licensed dealers. They’ve had the same experience with websites online where the firearms are first sent in for a background check before they are sent out to the customer.

The so-called loophole refers to second-hand gun sales. If an individual inherits a gun collection he doesn’t want or decides to make some cash selling a rifle she no longer uses, he or she can try to get a table at a local gun show, post a classified ad, or even sell online without having to get a federal license and submitting a sale for a background check (unless it’s a state like Illinois that requires one).

Such a second-hand dealer can get a booth at a gun show or head online to a website like Armslist.com (think Craigslist, but for guns), and sell to customers with no background check needed.

Obama’s executive actions do not create new legislation. The second-hand selling loophole remains.

Instead, Obama has vowed that he is “closing” the loophole. He’s actively making it smaller, and that means the government is going to step up its role in finding so-called second-hand dealers who are actually “in the business” of selling firearms. This “in the business” phrase is found in the Whitehouse.gov explanation of the executive action, and the phrase was spoken by the president during his CNN interview.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will not be performing new duties. Instead, they are being re-committed to the existing directive to identify anyone “in the business” of selling firearms and making sure they have a federal license and are submitting background checks for every sale.

When he spoke to Anderson Cooper, the president said he was simply “putting sellers on notice,” and this is what he was referring to.

So what is the ATF looking for?

You know how if you have an old toy taking up space in the garage, you might go on eBay and sell it? No one would argue that doing so makes you some kind of official retail toy distributor. But what about those eBay Power Sellers who have inventory and use the auction site like a storefront to turn themselves a profit, perhaps in lieu of any other income? Those Power Sellers are definitely “in the business” of selling online, and so the government is looking to find and reign in what it identifies as unlicensed Power Sellers of guns.

When speaking on CNN, the president said dealers would be evaluated on a “case-by-case” basis, and this is the process he was referring to.

While the government will identify these Power Sellers and bring them in line with existing federal standards, everyday people can still go online, and perhaps even still get a booth at a gun show, to sell a gun without a federal license.

If that’s what’s happening, a criminal could still use Google to find a site like Armslist on his smartphone and order from one of those everyday people without a background check. It can still be done, but without the Power Sellers, the quantity of guns available without a background check will have decreased. The loophole is “closing,” but it isn’t closed.

While this isn’t the overhaul of the background check system that some supporters are expecting, it shoots down that ultra-conservative notion that Obama has circumvented Congress and is operating by his own set of rules.

The rest of Obama’s actions include hiring more agents and streamlining the background check process, including extending it to a 24-hours, 7-days-a-week operation. Obama is investing in private gun manufacturers to help them develop and sell alternative weapons that have modern or innovative safety features. Not all guns will have these, but a consumer might make his household safer tomorrow by opting to purchase models with the technology being funded today.

The only remaining piece of the new executive actions is the seemingly vague way that mental health records will be added to the criminal background check process. If there’s any kind of scandal happening with Obama’s new gun control actions, it has to be hiding there, because everything else seems to be on the level.

About the author

Dan Doll

Dan is a former staff writer for the New Jersey Herald. He is a Baltimore writer, marketer, merchandiser. Contact the author.

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