Nearly 140 in Congress ask Obama to shut loophole that allows gun sales without background checks

By Doug G. Ware  |  Nov. 23, 2015 at 10:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Nearly 140 members of Congress on Monday asked President Barack Obama to close a controversial legal loophole in federal gun laws that allow some people to buy guns without first submitting to a background check.

Rep. Mike Thompson, Chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, drafted one letter and gathered the signatures of 114 other lawmakers. The California Democrat sent the letter asking Obama to take action to reduce gun violence, since he says Republicans in the House won't.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also drafted a different but similar letter Monday calling on Obama to take executive action to curb gun violence.

The loophole both letters refer to is a stipulation in the federal law that mandates those "in the business" of selling firearms be licensed -- which means they must conduct background checks on all persons they sell weapons to.

Those not "in the business," though, are not required to perform any security checks.

"Under current law, only licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks for all gun sales, and only those individuals deemed to be 'engaged in the business' of dealing in guns are required to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)," the House letter states. "However, the regulatory definition of 'engaged in the business, is exceptionally vague. As a result, individuals are able to sell guns at a high volume at gun shows, over the internet, or elsewhere without ever having becoming licensed and, in turn, without being compelled to conduct a simple background check before completing a sale."

"Your administration could take an immediate step that would have an important impact on limiting gun violence," the letter also said. "Despite tragedy after tragedy, the Republican Congress has not been willing to pass any meaningful legislation to strengthen laws to help keep guns out of the hands of individuals who pose an increased risk to public safety."

The Senate letter echoed the same concerns.

"It is unthinkable that our country can continue to turn a blind eye to these tragedies," the Senate letter says. "We ask you, concurrently, to investigate and pursue all available options under your executive authority to reduce gun violence."

Additional gun control has been a highly controversial issue in the United States, particularly after mass shootings like the ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and Umpqua Community College in Oregon in October.

Obama has repeatedly stated his wish to toughen gun laws, but analysts say getting such measures passed in a Republican-controlled Congress is a major obstacle.

"Since Congress won't step up, the President should," Thompson said. "Through executive action he can help keep guns from criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill."

"Updating the definition of 'engaged in the business' ... would not impact a father giving a gun to his son, or an individual selling his gun on the internet. But it will help ensure that individuals are not able to continue to exploit ambiguity in the current regulation and sell guns at a high volume without any oversight by ATF."

Obama didn't specifically comment on the lawmakers' letters Monday, but did touch on the gun control issue via the White House social media accounts.

"There is no law on the books that prevents someone on a terror list from buying a weapon. It's time to change that," a tweet said.

Another tweet asked Congress to pass a law closing that particular loophole.

"Something needs to be done," Thompson said.

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