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Fact check on Obama’s proposals to tighten gun control rules

A look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story


 
U.S. President Barack Obama announces steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence while delivering a statement in the East Room of the White House in Washington January 5, 2016. Obama said the  gun control measures were well within his authority to implement without congressional approval. Vice-President Joe Biden is at right. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama announces steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence. (Kevin Lamarque,Reuters)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s proposals to tighten gun control rules may not accomplish his goal of keeping guns out of the hands of would-be criminals and those who aren’t legally allowed to buy a weapon. That’s because the conditions he is changing by executive action are less clear than he made them out to be.

Obama will be talking about guns again Thursday evening when he plans to take questions from gun control supporters and opponents in a televised town hall meeting on CNN.

Some of Obama’s comments and how they compare with the facts:

OBAMA: “A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked.”

THE FACTS: It’s not that straightforward. In fact, federally licensed gun dealers are required by law to conduct background checks for gun purchases no matter where the sale takes place _ in a store, at a gun show or online. While private gun sales can be conducted over the Internet, if the sale involves people in different states, a licensed gun dealer in the state where the gun is going still has to be involved in the transfer.

Regardless of the seller, it is illegal for a convicted felon to buy or possess a gun unless they have had their rights restored. But prohibited buyers have evaded the law to buy guns.

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OBAMA: “We’re going to require firearms dealers to report more lost or stolen guns on a timely basis.”

THE FACTS: The effect of this is unclear because the government already requires gun dealers to report all lost or stolen guns within 48 hours of discovering that they are missing. This is true for guns in their shops or those being sent to them. Obama did not say how much faster he wants the reporting to be or how he would achieve that.

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OBAMA: “Anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the Internet or at a gun show.”

THE FACTS: “In the business” is the key condition for coming under this requirement, and the definition may have a lot of flexibility. Federal law defines people who “repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit” as being “engaged in the business” of selling guns and requires them to be licensed. The license process includes a $200 application fee and a criminal background check. People who only occasionally sell guns from their personal collections don’t have to apply for a license.

The law does not specify how many guns a person has to sell to be considered “engaged in the business” of selling guns, and neither did Obama. His new guidance defines a dealer as one whose “principal motive” is profit.

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OBAMA: “They’ve (Congress) refused to make it harder for terror suspects who can’t get on a plane to buy semi-automatic weapons.”

THE FACTS: That’s at least in part because gun ownership is a constitutional right and getting on an airplane isn’t. Being placed on the government’s no-fly list is a process that generally is not subjected to an independent legal review or a judicial process such as a courtroom trial. A person can be barred from boarding a U.S. airline based merely on suspicion that he or she might pose a threat. Having one’s name removed from the no-fly list is arduous and can take years. The bar is higher, such as a criminal conviction, for the government to take away a person’s constitutional right to own a firearm.


 
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