The White House announced two new executive orders to curb gun violence on Thursday, building on the 23 executive orders President Obama signed in the aftermath of the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The first order closes a loophole that allows felons and other people who would be prohibited from owning guns to circumvent the law by registering their guns with a corporation or trust, which would exempt them from the requisite background check. A fact sheet distributed by the White House notes that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) “received more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations” in 2012 alone.
The new executive order requires individuals associated with trusts and corporations that acquire weapons to undergo background checks just as they would if they registered the guns in their own name.
At a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on Thursday for Todd Jones, the new director of the ATF, Vice President Biden said the loophole provided felons and others prohibited from owning guns an “easy way to evade required background checks.” With the new executive order, he added, that “artful dodge” would be a thing of the past.
The second executive order announced Thursday aims to keep military-grade weapons off the streets by prohibiting private entities from re-importing firearms that the United States previously provided to foreign allies. Currently, the law requires U.S. government approval before these weapons can be re-imported. According to the White House, over 250,000 such weapons have been brought home since 2005.
Biden noted that, prior to 2005, that re-importation wasn't occurring. The new executive order, he said, would end the “practice of allowing countries to send back to the United States these military weapons to private entities. Period.”
The executive order institutes a new policy of denying requests to bring military-grade firearms back to the United States. A few private entities, like museums, are exempted from the new restriction.
After his show of support for the new gun restrictions, Biden, who has spearheaded the administration's push to curb gun violence throughout 2013, ceremonially swore in Jones, who became the first permanent director of the ATF since 2006.
Thursday's swearing-in was a “long time in coming,” Biden said, and it put the ATF “fully back in business.”
Jones, who has been the acting director of the ATF since 2011 as he awaited Senate confirmation, thanked Biden and the rest of the administration for the “privilege” of leading the bureau, promising to take the ATF's enforcement activities to “the next level” in his stead as director.
The executive orders, while sure to be greeted with open arms by gun control advocates, are a mark of just how paralyzed the politics of gun violence have become in America. In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook, President Obama unveiled a raft of proposals, including an expansion of background checks, a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, and a ban on military-style semiautomatic assault weapons. Many of the proposals required congressional approval, but within months, the legislative machinery had stalled, leaving executive action as the administration's only recourse.
On Thursday, Biden said he and Mr. Obama remain “committed” to legislative action to reduce gun violence, promising, “If Congress won't act, we'll fight for a new Congress. It's that simple. But we're going to get this done.”