With gun control measures going nowhere in Congress, President Obama on Thursday used his executive power to announce two minor steps aimed at limiting sales of powerful guns: He stopped the import of military surplus weapons and proposed to close a little-known loophole that allows felons and others to go around background checks by registering guns to corporations.
Obama decided to add two more executive actions to a list of 23 steps he pledged to take to reduce gun violence eight months after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and four months after Congress rejected the campaign for more gun control.
“Even as Congress fails to act on common-sense proposals, like expanding criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, the president and vice president remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress to reducing gun violence,” White House spokesman Joshua Earnest told reporters.
In a surprise move, Vice President Joe Biden, who Obama charged with pushing the more restrictive gun measures after the Newtown tragedy, unveiled the new actions Thursday at the White House.
Joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, Biden announced the latest gun-control steps Thursday while swearing in Todd Jones, the new head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has gone without a director for six years.
The action would end a government practice that allows military weapons, sold or donated by the U.S. to allies, to be reimported into the country by private entities to be sold and end up on the streets. In the last eight years, the U.S. has reportedly allowed 250,000 of those military guns to be reimported, but the new policy would allow only museums and a few other entities to be eligible to reimport military-grade firearms.
The Obama administration also proposed a federal rule designed to stop people who wouldn’t pass a background check from trying to get around the law by registering certain guns to a corporation or trust. People associated with the corporations or other entities would be required to undergo the same type of background checks as all others who want to register guns.
The executive actions immediately drew criticism from gun rights groups. The National Rifle Association said the most recent moves were misdirected and 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.”
Gun-control advocates applauded the two incremental administration moves.
“Today the Obama administration locked on backdoor to get around Brady background checks,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Most Americans would be outraged to learn the number of loopholes that allow felons and other dangerous people to get their hands on machine guns and other military-grade firearms.”