The front page of the Times and the title says it all. Why? Well there are a myriad of reasons: Obama, Congress, the NRA, an election year, paranoia and our obsession with guns. And I will simply leave it at that.
Obama’s Lofty Plans on Gun Violence Amount to Little Action
WASHINGTON — The centerpiece of a plan for stemming gun violence that President Obama announced last month largely amounts to this: an updated web page and 10,000 pamphlets that federal agents will give out at gun shows.
In a tearful display of anger and sadness in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama ordered steps intended to limit gun violence and vowed to clamp down on what he called widespread evasion of a federal law requiring gun dealers to obtain licenses.
But few concrete actions have been put in motion by law enforcement agencies to aggressively carry out the gun dealer initiative, despite the lofty expectations that Mr. Obama and top aides set.
Obama administration officials said they had no specific plans to increase investigations, arrests or prosecutions of gun sellers who do not comply with the law. No task forces have been assembled. No agents or prosecutors have been specifically reassigned to such cases. And no funding has been reallocated to accelerate gun sale investigations in Washington or at the offices of the 93 United States attorneys.
The absence of aggressive enforcement is a reminder of the limits of Mr. Obama’s executive authority, even as he repeatedly asserts the power of the Oval Office to get things done in the face of inaction by a Republican Congress.
Even the National Rifle Association, which fights anything it perceives as a threat to gun rights, has not sued to block Mr. Obama’s actions, and gun groups profess little reason for concern. “Nothing, from what we can see, has changed,” said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group.
Administration officials say that with Congress unwilling to take any legislative action, the White House’s plan goes as far as Mr. Obama can to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illnesses.
“The actions the president announced last month represent the maximum the administration can do under the current law,” said Eric Schultz, the deputy White House press secretary, “namely increasing mental health treatment and reporting, improving public safety, managing the future of gun safety
Mr. Obama has been under pressure from gun control advocates to confront gun violence since he failed to convince Congress to approve universal background checks in 2013. The highly stage-managed announcement in January gave him the chance to demonstrate what he called the “fierce urgency” to respond to mass shootings.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch told reporters on the day Mr. Obama announced the plan that the government was “ramping up our enforcement efforts, particularly online” and “will be looking” for unlicensed gun dealers.
But turning promises into action is often difficult — a political reality that Mr. Obama and his aides know all too well — especially in the face of a sluggish bureaucracy and a determined, partisan opposition in Congress. The president’s attempts to sidestep lawmakers on immigration have been tied in courts for more than a year, and he faces fights on executive orders to expand gay rights, establish a minimum wage for federal contractors and combat climate change.
The new guidance says that there is no “bright line” for determining whether someone should register as a dealer, but that a number of factors — such as selling even a small number of new firearms in their original packaging, making a profit and selling regularly at gun shows or online — could qualify.
Sally Quillian Yates, the deputy attorney general, said the A.T.F.’s new guidance would put people who sold guns regularly “on notice” that they must register as dealers and conduct background checks. She said it should also lead to more successful prosecutions of unregistered gun dealers who are flouting the law.
But gun control advocates say they want more than just notification. Jonas Oransky, counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety, said the A.T.F. should not expect that arrests and prosecutions would happen “without extra energy behind it by them,” but added, “We’re giving them some time to figure out how best to do this.”
Some experts are skeptical that the president’s actions will have much effect, even if they are carried out fully.
“This is a very modest plan,” said Joe Vince, a former administrator at the A.T.F. who now teaches criminal justice. “I don’t think the president had much more authority than to do what he did.”
White House officials said it was too early to judge the effect of the president’s measures. And they said the effort to register more gun dealers was just one piece of his initiative. Other elements would tighten rules on gun purchases by corporations and more quickly identify lost or stolen guns.
The president also sought to improve the F.B.I.’s ability to identify prohibited gun buyers by hiring more background check examiners and by collecting more criminal and mental health information from states.
But a number of the elements that Mr. Obama took credit for last month were already underway before he directed the administration to develop new gun measures in the wake of mass shootings in
The F.B.I., for example, has already received funding for an additional 230 examiners in the next two years to handle the growing requests for background checks.
The president is wary of creating any appearance that he is sending in armies of federal agents to take away people’s guns.
“Our No. 1 goal here is not to slap the cuffs on people for not being registered,” Ms. Yates, the deputy attorney general, said. “We believe there are a lot of folks out there who want to comply with the law.”
Mr. Obama’s lawyers have cautioned against seeming to create new gun laws by fiat. The most the president can do, they have said, is to direct better enforcement of the laws that exist.
The bulk of the new responsibilities outlined by Mr. Obama will fall to the A.T.F., an agency that has suffered from chronic underfunding and understaffing, years of scandals, and distrust from Republicans and gun rights groups. Mr. Obama plans to request tens of millions of dollars from Congress for additional A.T.F. agents, but Republicans are hesitant to approve it.
The A.T.F. has been without a confirmed director since April; the White House has blamed a backlog of confirmations in the Republican-controlled Senate. Michael Bouchard, a former assistant director at the A.T.F., faulted Mr. Obama for not nominating anyone to the job as part of his plan.
“How could you say that all this stuff about guns is so important, but you don’t think it’s important enough to name a nominee to run the agency?” Mr. Bouchard asked. “This would have been a great time for it.”
A.T.F. officials said that the agency had not named anyone to oversee the plan or set up new committees to run it. Brian Garner, a special agent and spokesman for the agency, said: “We’ve not at any point said we’re going to do any big rollout. Right now, we’re going to work the cases with the resources we have and do the best job we can.”
Supporters of the plan said they had been assured that it would be enforced aggressively.
“It was significant; it was bold,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts state attorney general. “It takes time for the directive to be implemented.”