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President Obama announces crackdown on gun purchases

By CHRISTI PARSONS
Tribune Washington Bureau

January 05. 2016 2:13PM
President Barack Obama is seen in tears while delivering a statement on steps his administration is taking to reduce gun violence in the East Room of the White House in Washington Tuesday. Vice President Joe Biden is at right. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama launched his unilateral attempt to crack down on illegal gun purchases Tuesday, blaming the "constant excuses for inaction" from Congress as justification for his exercise of executive power.

But in an emotional address quoting the Bible, the Constitution and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Obama also tacitly acknowledged the limits on what he can do without Congress.

Significant change will come only when voters rise up to demand it from lawmakers, he said.

"That's why we're here today," Obama told a crowd in the East Room of the White House. "Not to debate the last mass shooting, but to try to do something to prevent the next one."

Under the modifications Obama announced, law enforcement officials will warn private gun sellers that they may be vulnerable to prosecution if they don't register with the government and begin conducting background checks of potential gun buyers.

The Department of Justice will launch an intensive education campaign to push more private sellers into the licensing process, while also hiring investigators to turn around more thorough background checks, more quickly.

Obama has long sought to use the law to curb gun violence, pushing for legislation on universal background checks after the 2012 Newtown massacre, but the proposal ultimately failed in Congress. After the mass shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Ore., in October, he directed staffers to scour existing gun laws for steps he could legally take to strengthen them, apparently concluding that he'd get nowhere with a Republican-led Congress.

But the changes Obama is ordering fall far short of his sweeping goals of universal background checks or closing the so-called gun show loophole, which lets hobbyists and collectors get around the licensing system, in part because lawmakers would have to approve the funding for all the hiring.

Though the steps are relatively modest in comparison, Republican lawmakers nonetheless are furious, calling Obama's effort a dangerous overreach by the executive branch and a violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

"Ultimately, everything the President has done can be overturned by a Republican President, which is another reason we must win in November," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement released while Obama was talking.

Even as Obama contemplates a year of executive action to address a range of problems, the gun plan demonstrates the limits of acting unilaterally rather than with the support of Congress.

"After the President takes those steps," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said before Obama spoke, "Congress is still going to have a responsibility to act in their own right as well."


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