Obama used executive powers to augment existing laws
Amid several highly publicized mass shootings and a gridlocked Congress, it became apparent during President Barack Obama's second term that new gun laws were not going to be passed. So he focused on making the current ones stronger.
While unable to get lawmakers to pass a new assault weapons ban (we rated that a Promise Broken), Obama did what he could to boost laws on the books.
In January 2013, a month after 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., Obama announced a sweeping set of suggested legislation and 23 executive actions.
His plan to reduce gun violence included a focus on mental health treatment, limiting magazine sizes, strengthening background checks and restarting federal gun research that had been frozen for years. Obama issued further actions on medical histories in background checks in 2014.
Another round of executive actions announced in January 2016 included further augmenting licensing requirements and background checks, funding more federal agents, tracing guns found during investigations to determine trafficking patterns, and guiding U.S. attorneys to go after felons looking to buy guns or people lying in order to pass background checks. The Justice Department also boosted funding for background check records, especially mental health records.
In April, stemming from those actions, Obama announced a new focus on researching and promoting smart gun technology, which requires firearms to be keyed to specific users in order to work. He also said the Social Security Administration was working to add mental health records to background checks.
Most of these actions didn't require much action by Congress, said Christian Heyne, legislative director at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Instead, his directives were designed to bring gun control issues to the forefront of debates and refocus agency priorities — although these all could change under a new administration.
Because of these actions, Heyne said, gun control has become a topic that has been more accepted at the state level.
"I just don't think the movement would be where it is without someone in office who has done everything he could to change things," Heyne said.
Obama said he wanted to better enforce current gun laws. With an intractable Congress, he issued multiple executive actions that did seek to bolster laws in place, although these actions don't carry the same weight as law.
We rate this Promise Kept.
CNN, "Obama announces 23 executive actions, asks Congress to pass gun laws," Jan. 16, 2013
WhiteHouse.gov, "The President's Plan to Reduce Gun Violence," Jan. 16, 2013
New York Times, "Obama Announces Gun Control Actions," Jan. 3, 2014
WhiteHouse.gov, "FACT SHEET: New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer," Jan. 4, 2016
Politico, "Obama reveals push for 'smart guns'," April 29, 2016
Interview with Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor, Nov. 16-17, 2016
Interview with Jaclyn Schildkraut, State University of New York at Oswego's Department of Public Justice assistant professor, Nov. 18, 2016
Interview with Christian Heyne, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence legislative director, Dec. 7, 2016
Obama takes executive action to better enforce gun laws
In a tearful speech, President Barack Obama laid out a series of executive orders intended to reduce gun violence.
A large part of this plan — the first major initiative of Obama's last year in office — focuses on better enforcing current gun laws.
"We're going to do everything we can to ensure the smart and effective enforcement of gun safety laws that are already on the books," he said Jan. 5, 2016.
At the top of the list is improving the background check system.
He has asked the FBI to immediately hire more than 200 new employees. Obama envisions that the FBI will improve the system technology and be able to process background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is also encouraging states to provide the federal government with more robust criminal and mental health records.
Obama has directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to "clarify" that anyone "engaged in the business of dealing in firearms" needs a license and must require background checks of purchasers. This means self-described hobbyists who regularly sell guns, as opposed to just occasionally, might be violating the law by operating without a license.
He also requested the ATF to hire more than 200 agents and investigators to better enforce current laws. The ATF will direct more attention to programs that work on gun crime intelligence and online firearms trafficking.
Of course, Congress still has to fund these initiatives, and it's possible that the next president could reverse them. Some of the Republican candidates have pledged to do just that. And there are some questions about how effective his proposals will be.
For now, we'll keep this promise rated In the Works.
White House, "Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform," Jan. 5, 2016
White House, "New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer," Jan. 4, 2016
New York Times, "Obama's Action on Guns: What It Means for Background Checks," Jan. 5, 2016
Better enforcement part of Obama plan to reduce gun violence
President Barack Obama made an emotional plea to lawmakers Thursday to strengthen the nation's gun laws.
But he also told voters in October 2012 that to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals, "we have to enforce the laws we've already got.”
(He also proposed reintroducing an assault weapons ban, something we're tracking separately.)
Has the re-elected president followed his own prescription that there's "more to do when it comes to enforcement”?
In January 2013, a month after a shooter killed 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Conn., he released a plan to reduce gun violence.
It includes several measures that focus on enforcement of existing laws, such as:
• Encouraging private sellers to sell their guns through licensed dealers so buyers face background checks.
• Asking Congress for $4 billion "to help keep 15,000 cops on the street.”
• Requiring federal law enforcement agencies to trace all firearms picked up during criminal investigations to "help … reveal gun trafficking patterns.”
• Asking U.S. attorneys to consider stepping up prosecutions of felons illegally seeking firearms, or people who provide false information to pass background checks.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department will offer $25 million in grants to states to help them boost the number of records, especially mental health records, in the background check system.
The proposals are less than three months old, and it's too early to judge whether stronger enforcement will result. But it's a start. We rate this promise In the Works.
White House, "Remarks by the President on Gun Safety," March 28, 2013
White House, "Now is the time: The president's plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence,” Jan. 16, 2013
Justice Department, "Reducing Gun Violence and Preventing Future Tragedies," Feb. 13, 2013