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Obama and gun control: What actions could he take on his own?

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(Read caption) Facing powerful opposition to sweeping gun regulations, President Barack Obama will unveil his proposals Wednesday, barely over a month since the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Jan. 15)
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At his news conference Monday President Obama said he’s considering using his executive powers to order up some new gun-control measures. What sorts of things could he do on the gun issue on his own?

Well, he won’t be instituting sweeping edicts such as a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. Those would require congressional legislation, which he’s also vowed to push for. What Mr. Obama can do is issue executive orders based on his constitutional authority or existing statutes. Generally, this sort of executive action deals with government officials or agencies, according to a 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the subject.

Executive orders “usually affect private individuals only indirectly,” according to CRS.

Thus one thing Obama might do is tighten the existing background check system meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, according to a list of possible executive actions compiled by the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP).

Obama could penalize states that don’t provide data on disqualified gun purchasers to the federal government, for instance. He could order federal agencies themselves to do a better job of telling the FBI about individuals that by law may not be qualified to own firearms. He could direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to conduct background checks on the employees of federally licensed gun dealers as part of its existing audit program.

The president might have the power to require broader reporting of multiple sales of assault rifles to particular individuals, according to CAP. He could also order the FBI to absorb the ATF. “In recent years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has become a beleaguered agency that is unable to adequately fulfill its mission to oversee and enforce federal firearms laws,” claims the CAP.

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