U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday defended his administration’s plans to tighten the nation’s gun—control restrictions without going through Congress, kicking off his last year in office with a clear signal that he intends to prioritize one of the country’s most intractable issues.
The president has been looking for ways to work around a Republican—led Congress that has blocked his previous efforts to tighten gun laws in the wake of mass shootings. Obama has accused Republicans and some Democrats of being beholden to the powerful gun industry lobby and opposing some measures he says a majority of Americans support, including expanded background checks on gun sales. But the issue of gun control bitterly divides Americans, with many viewing any attempt to regulate firearms as a possible infringement on their constitutional rights to own guns.
Flanked by his attorney general and the head of the FBI, Obama insisted Monday that the steps he’ll announce fall within his legal authority and uphold the constitutional right to own a gun but offered few details about the list of recommendations he’s received and will come out with over the next few days.
Behind the scenes, though, Obama’s administration has been preparing an effort to expand background checks on gun sales by forcing more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers.
“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said, setting expectations for what he can do on his own. “It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting; it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal. It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”
More than three years after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, with many other mass shootings since, Obama is training his attention once again on a policy goal that has eluded his administration. He tried the legislative route in 2013, pushing hard for a package of gun control measures including expanded background checks. But that effort collapsed spectacularly in Congress.