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Obama announces measures to bolster gun control, background checks

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Jan. 5, 2016 at 1:35 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- An emotional President Barack Obama urged Congress on Tuesday to step up its response to gun control as he announced a series of executive actions designed to curb gun violence by expanding background checks and bolstering access to mental health resources.

Obama announced some measures that sidestep congressional approval and others that need legislative backing. Flanked by gun control activists and the families of gun victims in the White House East Room, Obama defended his actions by saying the measures will make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns and do not conflict with the Second Amendment.

"Congress still needs to act," Obama said. "The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does. Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot."

The typically stoic Obama wiped back tears as he vowed to dial down gun violence, pointing out the 20 children and six adults killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"People are dying and the constant excuses for inaction no longer do, no longer suffice," he said.

The new legislation would narrow the so-called "gun show loophole," by increasing the number of people considered gun dealers. Obama is also asking Congress to support resources in the fiscal 2017 budget for 200 new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and investigators to enforce gun laws, as well as $500 million to address mental health issues.

"The most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence is to make sure those who would commit violent acts cannot get a firearm in the first place," the White House said in advance of the president's announcement.

The legislation would require a license for gun sellers, regardless of where the sale is conducted. That includes those who use the Internet or other technologies for sales, "just as a dealer whose business is run out of a traditional brick-and-mortar store."

"There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement," the White House said. "But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is 'engaged in the business.' "

The legislation would also close a loophole that allows buyers to avoid background checks by applying to acquire firearms and other items through trusts, corporations and other legal entities, a process that has increased from 900 applicants in 2000 to 90,000 in 2014.

The White House further outlined the president's plan as follows:

- The National Instant Criminal Background Check System will see a 50 percent bump in its workforce, adding about 230 examiners and staff members to assist in background checks.

- The FBI, in conjunction with U.S. Digital Service, will modernize the background check system, including processing background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

- The Social Security Administration will add information to background checks about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing firearms for mental health reasons.

- The Department of Health and Human Services will finalize a rule to remove legal barriers preventing states from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.

- The ATF will commit $4 million and add personnel to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), used by investigators to link cross-jurisdictional crimes.

- To aid in mental health services, Obama is proposing funding that would improve access to healthcare by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce.

Obama's announcement comes after 2015 federal data shows America's insatiable appetite for firearms is continuing. FBI records show background checks for gun permits and purchases increased nearly 22 percent in November 2015 and nearly 36 percent in December 2015 over the same months in 2014. In 2015, background checks rose nearly 10 percent over 2014 data.

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