President Barack Obama is expected to announce in the coming days a new executive action with the goal of expanding background checks on gun sales, people familiar with White House planning said.
Described as “imminent,” the set of executive actions would fulfill a promise by the President to take further unilateral steps the White House says could help curb gun deaths.
Plans for the action are not yet complete, and those familiar with the process warn that unforeseen circumstances could delay an announcement. But gun control advocates are expecting the new actions to be revealed next week, ahead of Obama’s annual State of the Union address, set for January 12.
The White House wouldn’t comment directly on the exact timing or content of Obama’s executive orders. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said that the President expected a set of recommendations on unilateral action to arrive at the beginning of the year.
He said Obama was “expressing urgency” for a list of steps he can take on his own after high-profile incidents of gun violence at the end of this year.
“It is complicated. That’s why it’s taken some time for our policy folks, our lawyers, and our expects to work through this and see what’s possible,” Schultz said.
A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said the group had no comment The group previously told CNN that Obama’s “gun control agenda was rejected by Congress. Now, he is doing what he always does when he doesn’t get his way, defying the will of the people and using executive action.”
The group said at the time that Obama had his “wish list of gun control,” in California but “it didn’t prevent the San Bernardino attack.”
“The fact is, the President’s gun control agenda will only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their right to self-defense,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.
Gun control advocates and White House officials say the focus remains on the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows certain sellers of guns — at gun shows and elsewhere — to avoid conducting background checks before making sales.
Months after the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre that claimed 26 victims, the then-Democratic majority Senate rejected a similar proposal.
Congress would still need to act in order to make background checks fully universal. But advocates and administration lawyers have struck upon a provision in the law that could allow for Obama to expand the background check requirement to additional sellers.
Federal law currently requires all individuals “engaged in the business” of selling guns to obtain a license and conduct background checks on buyers. But others who only make occasional sales or are selling firearms from a personal collection are exempted from the background check requirement.
Gun control advocates say Obama could take action himself by issuing a regulation that provides expanded guidance on who falls under the “in the business” standard.
One group, the Michael Bloomberg-helmed Everytown for Gun Safety, has provided recommendations to the White House that include creating a test for assessing who must become licensed to continue selling guns. Factors would include volume and speed of sales, and whether or not the seller relies on advertising to sell guns.
The group also recommended Obama define a gun in a “personal collection” as having been in the seller’s possession for at least a year.
Before leaving for his winter vacation in Hawaii, Obama met with Bloomberg at the White House to discuss gun control.
Aside from the background check provision, people familiar with Obama’s plans say his new gun control announcement will include new funding for government agencies to better enforce existing gun laws.