The Center for American Progress, widely considered the “idea factory” for the Obama administration, recently issued recommendations for possible presidential action on gun control along with a larger data collection scheme that targets legal gun owners.
CAP’s anti-gun blueprints may influence any executive order issued by President Obama on the issue, and even form the basis for the gun control policies of a future Hillary Clinton administration.
CAP’s founder, John Podesta, served as White House counselor until earlier this year. He is currently chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In the past, CAP policy papers have gone on to become Obama administration policy. CAP is so close to the administration it was labeled the White House’s “idea factory” in a Time magazine profile titled, “Inside Obama’s Idea Factory in Washington.”
The White House has used the massacre at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California to float the idea that Obama may use his executive authority on gun control before he leaves office. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters last week that Obama believes gun control will keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
Obama himself singled out guns during his Oval Office address on Sunday on the San Bernardino attack.
During the speech, he stated:
“To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures, but the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, no matter how effective they are, cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual was motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do and must do is make it harder for them to kill.”
Widening regulation dragnet
In October, NBC News quoted administration officials saying Obama was eyeing a gun-control proposal that would set specific guidelines for who is legally defined as a licensed gun dealer, as current regulation stipulates that licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks before any sales.
Federal law requires anyone “engage[d] in the business” of “dealing in firearms” to obtain a federal firearms license from ATF and become a licensed gun dealer.
The statute specifically defines those “in the business” of gun sales as follows:
“A person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, but such term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”
On October 15, 2015, CAP published a report titled “Executive Action to Strengthen Background Checks by Addressing High-Volume Gun Sellers.” The paper recommended specific text for an executive order on gun control.
CAP pointed to what it said was “the vagueness in the current regulatory definition” of who is “in the business” of selling guns.
This “vagueness,” said CAP, “has provided the opportunity for individuals to take advantage of the ambiguity and sell guns at a high volume without becoming licensed and, therefore, without conducting background checks.”
CAP starts off by recommending a stronger definition of those who are considered legally “in the business” of dealing in firearms and therefore subject to stricter government regulation.
Among the new criteria would be a specific number of guns offered for sale as well as the amount of money a gun seller makes per year.
CAP argues Obama should further define those “in the business” of selling guns based on the following:
- Renting tables at gun shows or flea markets
- Operating a virtual store online
- Frequency of sales activity
- Advertising the sale of guns
- Accepting credit card payments
- Formal record keeping
- Paying employees
- Selling new and unopened guns
- Selling multiple guns with the same make and model
The CAP also wants Obama to address so-called fire sales—“meaning sales of all guns in inventory when a licensed dealer has his or her license revoked”— and include those sales within the definition of those engaging “in the business” and therefore require a federal firearms license.
`Under current practice following a 2006 opinion by the U.S. Department of Justice, dealers whose licenses are revoked are permitted to transfer the inventory from their store to their personal collection and continue to sell those guns as private sellers, regardless of the quantity of guns sold in this manner.’
Data collection on legal gun owners
An earlier 182-page CAP report from May 2015 outlined a larger federal overhaul of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF. The extensive paper urged the White House to merge the ATF into the FBI in order to enhance the ATF’s regulatory authority, especially regarding the collection of trace data on gun owners.
Upon its release, the CAP proposals were covered by the news media, but some have been under-reported:
CAP sees an ATF-FBI merger as a way to step up data collection via the eTrace system, a firearms monitoring database containing all registered information on each gun, including the legal owner’s personal information and any criminal activity tied to the weapon.
The database can only trace the registered users of each gun. It cannot follow a weapon once it enters the black market. This means the system traces only legal gun owners.
CAP claims the enhanced data collection will be used “to identify patterns and trends in the movement of crime guns around the country and to develop innovative investigations into trafficking networks based on these data.”
Merging the ATF with the FBI will allow for more compliance inspections of gun dealers to “look for indications of the illegal diversion of firearms,” writes CAP.
The report calls for stepped up inspections and regulation of gun shows and Internet sales. It laments that the ATF “has only attempted sporadic enforcement efforts at gun shows and on the Internet, and it does not seem to have a concerted strategy to address gun trafficking via these venues.”
The ATF’s role at gun shows is “primarily that of an information booth,” claims CAP, urging a “civil or criminal enforcement mechanism to ensure that applicable laws and regulations are being followed.”
In response to CAP’s report, a spokesman for the Justice Department, which oversees ATF, told the Washington Post in May that the agency “supports ATF in its current form and believes Congress should fully fund the president’s budget request that will enhance ATF’s ability to carry out their important mission.”
Foreseeing this attitude, CAP recommended other actions the president can take in the absence of an ATF-FBI merger.
Those actions include using executive authority to:
Shore up some of the weaknesses in federal firearms enforcement, such as requiring additional categories of licensed dealers to report multiple long gun sales; updating the definition of what constitutes being ‘engaged in the business’ of selling guns to determine who must obtain a federal firearms license; and penalizing states that do not submit records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System regarding individuals prohibited from gun ownership due to mental illness.”