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Obama goes around GOP, takes new steps to prevent gun deaths

Far-right critics of the president's new gun measures believe the policy is dangerous and meaningless -- at the same time. Both points can't be correct.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens as President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Jan. 4, 2016. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens as President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Jan. 4, 2016.
It was three years ago next week when President Obama, frustrated by Congress' refusal to act on gun violence, announced 23 executive actions intended to help save American lives. All 23 had one key advantage: they didn't require congressional approval, so all Republicans could do is complain and stomp their feet.
All 23 also had one key disadvantage: they were quite modest in scope. White House officials realized that sweeping changes to the law obviously must originate with Congress, so the administration's initiative included underwhelming measures. These were positive steps -- but they were small.
Three years later, GOP lawmakers are even less willing to consider any reforms whatsoever to the nation's gun laws -- no matter how broad the public support, no matter how many lives may be saved -- but Obama's eagerness for action remains unabated. Republicans won't like his latest actions, but by all appearances, the president couldn't care less whether they're pleased or not.

President Barack Obama directed federal agencies Monday to carry out a series of steps to reduce gun violence, including measures to restrict sales by unlicensed dealers -- sometimes called the gun show loophole. Regulators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will clarify that anyone engaged in the business of selling firearms must get a federal firearms dealers license and check the backgrounds of all buyers.

The details of the plan will be unveiled by the president later this morning -- a White House event is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Eastern -- but officials have already sketched out the basic plan. Among the provisions are improved reporting requirements for firearms dealers when guns are lost or stolen, and increased funding for mental health.
The measure likely to generate the most attention, of course, relates to background checks, and the president's effort to expand the requirements imposed on those who sell guns. Vox had a good look at how Obama's plan would narrow some of the existing loopholes.
But while we wait for additional information on the president's latest moves, the politics surrounding the issue continue to amaze. For example, consider what the NRA told the New York Times in reaction to the available information.

"This is it, really?" asked Jennifer Baker, an official with the N.R.A.'s Washington lobbying arm. "This is what they've been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they've spent seven years putting together? They're not really doing anything."

Well, OK, but if "they're not really doing anything," why is the NRA considering a lawsuit against the administration to challenge the policy they consider irrelevant? (For that matter, why is the NRA complaining about "executive orders," when in reality, there are no executive orders in the president's plan?)
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who used to support closing background-check loopholes until he changed his mind, issued his own condemnation of the president's proposals yesterday morning, complaining that Obama is "targeting law-abiding citizens, intruding further into innocent Americans' lives."
At the time, the White House hadn't released any information about the president's plan -- Ryan conceded he did not "yet know the details" -- but the Republican Speaker nevertheless blasted Obama's measures, sight unseen, just as a partisan reflex.
GOP presidential candidates were equally eager, if not more so, to condemn the policy they knew literally nothing about.
This is the state of the debate over gun violence in 2016. It's the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Pinata Politics -- blindfolded people swinging wildly in random directions, hoping to hit something.
The truth is the president is making a good-faith effort despite limited authority. If Americans want more meaningful changes, they're going to have to elect a very different kind of Congress. In the meantime, we're confronted with lawmakers and presidential candidates who are convinced they hate a policy they haven't seen, and an NRA that sees new measures as both meaningless and dangerous at the same time.