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Obama's gun control actions reignite divisive issue
President aiming to expand background checks
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Chris Wheeler rings up items for a customer Tuesday afternoon at Georgia Gun Store in Gainesville. Aiming to narrow loopholes, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is issuing updated guidance that says the government should deem anyone “in the business” of selling guns to be a dealer, regardless of where he or she sells the guns. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Presidential actions concerning gun control both alarmed and puzzled people at Gainesville’s Georgia Gun Store Tuesday.

Owner Kellie Weeks said she believed Obama wants to expand background checks on private sales, but “he didn’t make it clear” how that was going to happen.

“It sounds to me like he’s trying to put something in place and is being a little obscure with his wording to push it through,” she said.

Customer Terry Marquardt of Woodstock believes there is an ultimate aim in all the push for gun control, and that is “to get rid of all guns.”

“There’s over 300 million guns in the United States. How do you confiscate 300 million guns?” he said, as he filled out a background check form at the counter. “The bad people — they’re not going to turn theirs in.”

During a White House ceremony, Obama rolled out plans to tighten control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S., using the presidential power of an executive order.

“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns,” he said. “You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.”

At the centerpiece of Obama’s plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks. Under current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers.

Aiming to narrow that loophole, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is issuing updated guidance that says the government should deem anyone “in the business” of selling guns to be a dealer, regardless of where he or she sells the guns. To that end, the government will consider other factors, including how many guns a person sells, how frequently, and whether those guns are sold for a profit.

“This is just another example of President Obama going around the American people by circumventing Congress,” U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in a statement. “Restricting Americans’ Second Amendment rights is not the solution to ending mass acts of violence like we have seen in recent years. It’s time we focused on a comprehensive approach to solving this problem with a focus on mental health in our country.”

And U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said “any changes to our nation’s gun laws deserve serious public debate and must protect the rights of law-abiding citizens.”  

Debra Pilgrim, who chairs the Hall County Republican Party, said the president’s move sets a “dangerous precedent.”

“The president mentioned that all rights have limitations,” Pilgrim said. “However, those limits were not established by the executive branch, but by the courts.”

Sheila Nicholas, who chairs the Hall County Democratic Party, supported Obama’s actions Tuesday.

“Having lived in Chicago for almost 12 years with dozens dying every week from guns, I would argue we have a crisis in gun violence,” Nicholas said. “Even after Sandy Hook, Congress refused to act on any legislation that would have tightened the background check system.”

The White House also put gun sellers on notice that the administration planned to strengthen enforcement — including deploying 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks.

“I’m all for background checks,” Gainesville resident Rich Lacey said, “but within reason. It shouldn’t hold the process up and keep law-abiding Americans from having guns.”

Also, the Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

“I’m concerned about that, because nowadays, who isn’t on an antidepressant?” Weeks said.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, criticized Obama’s plan in a written statement.

“Eroding the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens by executive order is not the direction in which we want to take our nation,” he said.

“As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, we in the House are looking at all options we have to make sure the president is not allowed to expand interpretations of existing law without the acknowledgment of Congress, including preventing funding from going to any of these initiatives.”

Reporter Joshua Silavent and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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