Obama's Executive Action on Gun Control: What It Means

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 06, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Barack Obama broke down in tears while introducing an executive order on gun control and condemning the gun violence and Congressional inaction that necessitated it. "Each time this comes up," the president said, "we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying. I reject that thinking."

Obama's use of an executive order to tighten gun control laws has become a lightning rod for Constitutional and political debate (all Presidents except William Henry Harrison have issued them, and Obama's total number of orders is the fewest of any two-term president since Franklin D. Roosevelt). But what does the order actually do, and how will it impact gun ownership?

Expansion of Licensing and Background Checks

The biggest piece of Obama's executive action is the requirement that every firearms dealer be licensed and perform background checks on gun purchasers. This is an effort to close the so-called "gun show loophole" whereby secondary and private-party sales of firearms (like those at gun shows) did not require licensing or background checks. As the White House's Fact Sheet says, "If you're in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks."

The FBI will also be expanding its background check process, including around-the-clock processing and increased communication with local law enforcement if someone unlawfully tries to buy a gun. And the ATF will also require background checks for trusts, corporations, and other legal entities purchasing firearms.

Increased Enforcement, Mental Health Treatment, and Safety Technology

Obama is also pledging $500 million towards increasing the access to mental health treatment and linking mental health information to backgrounds checks. This will mean getting more information on potential gun buyers from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The president also proposed increased funding for ATF agents to investigate illegal gun sales and enforce existing gun laws. Obama also called on the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to research ways to increase gun safety technology.

The Administration believes all of its actions on gun control are consistent with the Second Amendment. "I believe in the Second Amendment, there written on paper, that guarantees the right to bear arms," Obama said. "No matter how many times people try to twist my words around, I taught constitutional law. I know a little bit about this. But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment."

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