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Politics & Government

Obama To Implement Gun Control Measures Through Executive Action

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President Obama is preparing to take executive action on gun control when he returned from vacation next week. The president was rebuffed three years ago in his effort to push gun legislation through Congress. Now he's considering regulatory changes that would make it harder for would-be gun buyers to skirt the laws requiring background checks. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama has spoken out about gun violence more than a dozen times since taking office. Whether the trigger pullers are inspired by ISIS, racism or the demons of mental illness, for him, the mounting body count has become all too routine.

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BARACK OBAMA: As I said just a few months ago and I said a few months before that and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough.

HORSLEY: Obama launched a major push for gun control legislation three years ago after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But that bill stalled in the U.S. Senate, so after another mass shooting in October at an Oregon community college, the president asked his advisers about steps he could take on his own.

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OBAMA: It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

HORSLEY: One recommendation is to tighten the rule government background checks. Under federal law, licensed gun dealers are required to check customers' background before selling a gun, but hobbyists and collectors are allowed to sell guns with no questions asked.

TED ALCORN: That is a huge loophole in the existing background check system which otherwise is a very useful system for keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

HORSLEY: Research director Ted Alcorn of the advocacy group Every Town For Gun Safety says a small number of gun sellers have taken advantage of that loophole, selling large numbers of weapons at gun shows and online. Chelsea Parsons of the left-leaning Center for American Progress says these unlicensed dealers make it far too easy for felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to buy guns without any screening.

CHELSEA PARSONS: You have individuals who rent tables at gun shows, set up their wares right next to a licensed gun dealer, and in fact, they often advertise no paperwork, no background check.

HORSLEY: Gun control advocates say the administration could shrink that loophole by rewriting the rules so more gun dealers have to conduct background checks. Anyone selling large numbers of guns or turning them around quickly, for example, would have to screen their customers. Critics complain the Senate already considered and rejected a similar idea three years ago. Dudley Brown of the National Association for Gun Rights argues Obama is trying to side-step Congress.

DUDLEY BROWN: We don't have a king in America, but he's acting like it. We'll oppose it loudly and vociferously.

HORSLEY: Brown is based in Colorado, which passed its own law requiring more background checks in 2013 in response to the aurora movie theater shooting. Two state lawmakers who back that measure were later recalled. Brown predicts similar political pushback if Obama goes through with his plans.

BROWN: I think it is going to dramatically hurt Hillary Clinton, members of Congress and the Democrat Party if the White House does this.

HORSLEY: Despite the political fallout, though, Colorado still requires nearly all gun purchasers to go through a background check. Supporters say over the last two-and-a-half years, that's stopped more than 700 prohibited people from buying a gun. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.