Making an election-year run around Congress, President Barack Obama will act unilaterally to force background checks of more gun buyers and launch a yearlong campaign urging states and localities to do what they can to curb gun violence.
He is expected to prod governors, state legislatures, mayors, city councils and police chiefs to implement policies and laws in an effort to decrease the number of mass shootings and acts of random violence that occur every day in America, according to activists familiar with the administration’s plan.
Combined, the executive orders on background checks and the pressure on states and cities amount to his last chance to have any impact at all on gun policy before leaving office in a year, as any proposed changes in law would die in Congress as they have before.
The president used a similar tactic of looking outside the Washington beltway after he failed to convince Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. He called for congressional action in his 2013 State of the Union address, but by 2014, after bills never left committees on Capitol Hill, he turned his attention to state and local officials.
Because we all must do our part to keep our communities safe, the administration is also calling on states and local governments to do all they can to keep guns out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence
White House factsheet
Tim Daly, director for campaigns, guns and crime at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research center that has worked closely with the White House on this issue, said Obama would use his “last year of the bully pulpit” to urge others to act.
The Center for American Progress issued a report last month outlining 28 ways that governors, attorneys general and other state executives could fight gun violence in their states without turning to their legislatures.
However, Obama's push to rally municipalities around gun control might meet hurdles in states where laws prevent cities and counties from regulating firearms and ammunition.
Most states have laws prohibiting local jurisdictions from passing gun control regulations that would be more restrictive than state law, according to the National Rifle Association and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence – two key advocacy groups that generally are on opposite sides of the debate over gun control.
Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York had no laws on the books preventing lawmakers from taking up the issue of gun control legislation at the local level, according to Tte Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Obama will announce the new actions Tuesday at the White House. He will broaden his push for local actions first in a prime-time town hall meeting on gun violence Thursday night on CNN, then in his final State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 12, and in campaign trips around the country.
Acting on his own, Obama will expand the number of background checks on gun purchases by requiring more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers, Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters Monday night.
He will direct his administration to require all sellers, including those at stores, gun shows and on the Internet, to get a license, and mandate background checks for people trying to buy certain weapons through a trust, corporation or other legal entity.
The FBI expects to hire 230 additional staffers to make the background check system more effective by allowing processing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and improving the sharing of information when certain prohibited persons attempt to buy a gun.
The White House said there was no “specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold” to trigger a license requirement, but noted that “even a few transactions” could be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.”
Brady background checks have blocked more than 2.4 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers, saving countless lives. The problem is every day there are thousands of commercial sales where background checks are not required. Thanks to the President’s historic action...that will no longer be the case
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
In addition, the administration is requiring dealers who ship firearms to notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit and mandating that the background check system include information about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
Obama also will direct the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct research into gun safety technology and ask Congress to pay for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce gun laws and $500 million to increase access to mental health care.
“For us to get our complete arms around the problem, Congress needs to act,” Obama said after meeting at the White House with Lynch to discuss the plan.
Lacking that, he added, “what I asked my team to do is to see what more we could do to strengthen our enforcement and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, to make sure that criminals, people who are mentally unstable and those who could pose a danger to themselves or others are less likely to get a gun.”
He briefed members of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force on the issue late Monday after meeting with Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and the deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who were helping to develop recommendations.
The Republican leadership in Congress has done nothing as gun violence has seemingly become America’s new normal. The president and Democrats refuse to stand silently by
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration had consulted with White House and Department of Justice attorneys to make sure it was on solid legal footing.
“There are common-sense steps that he can take, using his authority, that do not undermine the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. But we have to do something in this country to address the consequences of Congress’ failure to act,” he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Monday that the president’s actions actions were a “dangerous level of executive overreach.” Several of his party’s presidential candidates have pledged to undo them if they are elected.
“You have all these people, they get elected to do this stuff and you’re supposed to get together and pass a law,” GOP candidate Donald Trump said on CNN. “He doesn’t want to do that because it’s too much work. So he doesn’t want to work too hard. He wants to go back and play golf.”
Lesley Clark, Anna Douglas and Michael Doyle contributed to this article.
Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01