The Obama administration is using executive authority to close two gun-buying loopholes, a narrower version of the post-Newtown gun legislation that fell apart in the Senate four months ago. The new rules — one concerning background checks, the other the reimportation of weapons — could reduce the number of gun purchases a year by 70,000.
"It's simple, it's straightforward, it's common sense," Vice President Joe Biden said today from the White House. The executive action will only apply to relatively few gun purchases, though. The first loophole closed by Obama was used 39,000 times last year and allowed weapon purchasers to avoid background checks by registering a gun to a corporation or trust. With the second loophole, American military weapons were sold to allies and then re-imported back into the U.S. and sold through private groups. That loophole has resulted in the re-importation of 250,000 such guns since 2005, which equates to about 31,000 guns per year.
That total of 70,000 guns may sound like a lot, but it's a drop in the tank-sized bucket compared to the 17 million applications for background checks to buy guns in the U.S. in just the last year.
Obama and Democrats want to be able to tell supporters that they're doing something on guns, even though it's difficult to do much without Congress. A May 2013 poll found 81 percent of Democrats want more strict gun regulations. In his speech for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Thursday, former President Bill Clinton wove together the gun issue with another issue that motivates Democrats. "A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon," Clinton said, which was followed by "Cheers, applause" according to The Washington Post's transcript. National Journal said Clinton's intended target was the "antigun control groups that successfully blocked Obama's proposal to expand background checks on weapons purchases." It was also likely a reference to Texas' and North Carolina's restrictive voter identification laws.
Clinton's barb pleased the crowd — but was it true? Yes and no, writes Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald. He explains that Clinton's assertion that it is easier to buy an assault weapon than to vote is not true in every state, but it is the case in certain states with strict voter identification laws and loose gun restrictions, like Texas. In these states, guns can be purchased without any identification at gun shows or other secondary markets. Seitz-Wald tallies the results:
Scoreboard: There are 33 states where you can buy an assault weapon without ID, versus zero states where you can vote without providing some kind of ID — it’s federal law. Meanwhile, there are 43 state where you can buy an assault weapon with an ID, and, and 37 states were you can vote without a government-issued ID.
It should be noted that the majority of America's guns are purchased at retail stores, and not secondary market gun shows that don't require ID. That means most weapons buyers are getting ID and background checks. And after Thursday's executive action, that will be true of a tiny bit more of them.