Why Obama's New Gun Proposals Suggest There's No Hope For Congressional Action

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 3 2014 2:13 PM

With No Other Option, Obama Continues to Go Small on Gun Safety

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Attendees try out Sig Sauer 1911 model pistols at the Sig Sauer booth at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's 34th annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show at the Sands Expo and Convention Center January 17, 2012 in Las Vegas

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Obama administration today proposed two new federal rules aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, the latest small steps in the White House's effort to slowly strengthen gun laws through executive action at a time when similar efforts have gone largely nowhere on Capitol Hill. Here's Bloomberg with the details of the two proposed rule changes:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The Department of Justice is proposing to change rules for the federal background check system to clarify who under U.S. law is prohibited from possessing a firearm because of mental health problems. The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a regulation aimed at making it easier for states to submit information about the mentally ill to the federal system, without blocking all people who seek mental health treatment from owning guns.
“The administration is committed to making sure that anyone who may pose a danger to themselves or others does not have access to a gun,” according to the White House statement. “The federal background check system is the most effective way to assure that such individuals are not able to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer.”
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Last spring, the Senate rejected an expanded—but by no means universal—background checks proposal. The GOP-controlled House, meanwhile, never took up the issue on the chamber's floor. The White House is continuing to lobby Congress to take up the matter but, in the meantime—and for the foreseeable future—background check requirements don't apply to the millions of gun sales that occur at guns shows, online, and at other places outside of licensed dealers.

As a result, the White House has little option other than to look for victories where they can find them, no matter how small. As the New York Times' Jackie Calmes explained this afternoon, the fact that Obama continues to turn to incremental rule changes suggests he knows that the congressional debate is unlikely to go anywhere during his remaining time in office. "They’re trying to signal they’re keeping this issue alive," she said on MSNBC this afternoon. "They haven’t given up, but, essentially, the fact that these are regulations shows that, you know, they continue to see no hope for legislation."

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