- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday defended President Obama’s executive actions on firearms, saying the “common-sense” steps meant to reduce gun violence are within his legal authority.

“I have complete confidence that the common sense steps announced by the president are lawful,” Ms. Lynch said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “They are consistent with the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court and the laws passed by Congress.”

Republican lawmakers have been critical of the executive actions that Mr. Obama announced two weeks ago, questioning whether they went beyond the scope of his authority and if they would reduce gun violence.

Sen. Richard Shelby, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees funding for the Justice Department, has threatened to withhold funding for some of the gun control measures.

“It’s clear to me that the American people are fearful that President Obama is eager to strip them of their Second Amendment rights,” the Alabama Republican said during Wednesday’s hearing. “I’m concerned that the president is slowly chipping away at our Second Amendment rights.”

Among the steps taken through the president’s executive actions, federal agencies will broaden the list of firearms sellers who are required to obtain federal firearms licenses and therefore must conduct background checks on potential buyers; increase staffing for agencies that conduct the background checks; increase federal funding for treating mental illness by $500 million; and require firearms dealers to notify law enforcement of guns lost or stolen while in transit.

Mr. Obama said the action was necessary because Congress has refused to pass gun measures that could prevent more mass shootings in the U.S.

The Justice Department’s fiscal 2017 budget will include a request of $80 million to fund the president’s gun proposals, the majority of which will be spent on hiring new FBI and ATF agents who conduct firearms background checks and investigate gun crimes, according to Ms. Lynch.

The Attorney General said it has become increasingly difficult for employees of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to keep up with an increasing number of required checks in recent years. Last year saw a record setting number of background checks performed through the system — 23,141,970 overall or roughly 44 checks every minute.

“The steps that I have outlined — and the actions that President Obama has described — are all well-reasoned measures, well within existing legal authorities, built on work that’s already underway,” Ms. Lynch said. “I am confident that these actions will help to make our people safer, our communities more secure, and our law enforcement more effective.”

As part of the plan, the ATF plans to crack down on gun dealers who are not registered as federal firearms licensees, and as a result do not run background checks on buyers, by clarifying who they think is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms and thus required to obtain a federal license. Officials including former ATF agents have been critical of the plan, noting that there is no threshold for the number of guns sold before a person is deemed to be “in the business.”

Ms. Lynch further explained the ATF guidance, noting that the agency plans to provide training and education for individuals involved in firearms sales so they can ask questions and better understand the new requirements.

“It is our hope that this will ease compliance for those individuals who are in fact seeking to comply with the law,” she said. “And for those individuals who have no intention of complying with the law, this will put them on notice and will remove the defense that ‘this is too confusing’ or ‘I had no idea that I was failing in this category.’”

Former Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, was skeptical of the ultimate intention of the president’s plan.

“The idea here, in my impression, from the president to the attorney general on down, is that they want folks in that situation to think twice. To maybe not be that comfortable selling that gun except directly to and from a firearms dealer, where there are backgrounds checks going both ways,” said the former Republican governor who has gone on to found a law firm that specializes in representing gun owners who use their firearms in self-defense. “The ultimate effect is to slow down the opportunity to legally purchase, by law abiding citizens, firearms.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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