Striving to take action where Congress would not, the Obama administration announced new steps Thursday on gun control, curbing the import of military surplus weapons and proposing to close a little-known loophole that lets felons and others circumvent background checks by registering guns to corporations.
Four months after a gun control drive collapsed spectacularly in the Senate, President Barack Obama added two more executive actions to a list of 23 steps the White House determined Obama could take on his own to reduce gun violence. With the political world focused on Mideast tensions and looming fiscal battles, the move signaled Obama's intent to show he hasn't lost sight of the cause he took up after 20 first graders and six adults were gunned down last year in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Vice President Joe Biden, Obama's point-man on gun control after the Newtown tragedy thrust guns into the national spotlight, unveiled the new actions Thursday at the White House.
"It's simple, it's straightforward, it's common sense," Biden said in the Roosevelt Room.
One new policy will end a government practice that lets military weapons, sold or donated by the U.S. to allies, be reimported into the U.S. by private entities, where some may end up on the streets. The White House said the U.S. has approved 250,000 of those guns to be reimported since 2005; under the new policy, only museums and a few other entities like the government will be eligible to reimport military-grade firearms.
The Obama administration is also proposing a federal rule to stop those who would be ineligible to pass a background check from skirting the law by registering certain guns, like machine guns and short-barreled shotguns, to a corporation or trust. The new rule would require people associated with those entities, like beneficiaries and trustees, to undergo the same type of fingerprint-based background checks as individuals if they want to register those types of guns. "It's a very artful dodge to get around people who are not capable, constitutionally or legally, of owning a weapon," Biden said.
The National Rifle Association dismissed the administration's moves as misdirected, arguing that background checks for corporations and a ban on reimporting outdated guns wouldn't keep criminals from getting weapons.
"The Obama administration has once again completely missed the mark when it comes to stopping violent crime," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. "This administration should get serious about prosecuting violent criminals who misuse guns and stop focusing its efforts on law-abiding gun owners."
Joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, Biden formally unveiled the new measures Thursday while swearing in Todd Jones, whose confirmation to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after six years of political wrangling to fill that position was another of Obama's post-Newtown priorities. A Senate deal to approve the president's pending nominations after Democrats threatened to change Senate rules cleared the way for Jones' confirmation last month.