Earlier today, President Obama announced that he is issuing an executive order that clarifies which gun sellers must obtain federal firearms licenses, effective expanding the country’s background check system to cover purchases made online and at gun shows. Additionally, Obama announced that his administration will allocate additional funding for mental health services.
Politically, the fact that federal gun regulations are tightening at all is monumental. Practically, however, the administration’s move is really quite modest. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains:
Current law says that those who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, “with the principle objective of livelihood and profit,” are required to get a license, and thus to run checks. But the law excludes those who make “occasional” sales or sell their personal firearms collections.
Thus, the challenge here is to redefine “engaged in the business” in a manner that captures those who effectively are engaged in the business of selling guns — but currently are operating without a license — without capturing those who aren’t.
In other words, the President isn’t passing a new law by fiat; he’s updating his administration’s interpretation of current law to include gun sellers who, while not owning a brick and mortar store, are still engaged in the business of selling guns.
Nevertheless, the announcement was met with universal condemnation by Republicans in Congress. Paul Ryan chided Obama for dismissing Congress. Marco Rubio called the move part of Obama’s “War on the Constitution.” Louie Gohmert was so mad online that he invented an Internet acronym:
— Louie Gohmert (@replouiegohmert) January 5, 2016
And so on.
The Republican freakout over Obama’s order was as misguided as it was predictable. Nothing about President Obama’s announcement today constitutes a new law. It’s a tweak to the enforcement of the laws that are already on the books. What’s more, it doesn’t prevent anyone who would pass a federal background check from buying a gun. It simply seeks to make it a bit more difficult for people who wouldn’t pass a background check from finding gun sellers who aren’t required to run one on them.
This being the case, the Republicans’ beef with Obama isn’t over expanded background check enforcement as much as it’s over background check laws in the first place. And if that’s the real issue, fine, but let’s get Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio on the record saying they think screening gun buyers for criminal records violates the 2nd Amendment.