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Senate Hearing Debates Obama Actions on Guns


FILE - Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., says he thinks President Barack Obama is "trying to get around the law" with his recent executive orders on weapons issues.

FILE - Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., says he thinks President Barack Obama is "trying to get around the law" with his recent executive orders on weapons issues.

A U.S. senator on Wednesday questioned recent executive actions on gun control, saying he thought President Barack Obama was overstepping his authority and "trying to get around the law."

Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who was conducting an Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the executive orders, said the nation's founders sought "to ensure that power was not concentrated in a single branch of the federal government. The president has ignored the founders’ system and has accelerated the use of executive fiat to an alarming new level.”

"This subcommittee," he said, "will have no part in undermining the Constitution and the rights it protects."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who testified before the committee, responded that Obama's executive actions "are all well-reasoned measures, well within existing legal authorities, built on work that’s already underway. They clarify laws that are already on the books."

Obama announced his executive actions two weeks ago in response to a series of deadly U.S. incidents involving firearms. The actions will, among other things, require more gun sellers — including those who sell weapons and other items at gun shows — to get federal licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks. They also will tighten enforcement of existing gun laws, increase mental health treatment and expand research into gun safety technology.

The subcommittee was reviewing these steps because the Appropriations Committee deals with allocating money to various government agencies, and Obama's actions included requests for $35 million to expand background checks, $35.6 million to add federal weapons investigators and $500 million for mental health initiatives.

Second Amendment

But beyond the cost factors, Wednesday's hearing examined whether the president was stepping up enforcement of current law or creating new law and infringing on Americans' right to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

At one point, Shelby read the portion of current law that defines what a gun dealer is. Federal code says the term "shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms."

The senator then asked, "I think he [Obama] is trying to get around the law. Am I right?"

Witness Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, replied, "I think he's trying to eliminate the last clause of that section."

But witness Mark Barden, whose son Daniel, 7, was one of 26 people shot and killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, said he didn't see "any infringement" in the licensing order.

Barden, a self-described "grieving father who knows firsthand the cost of inaction," had already shared statistics on gun deaths. He said 89 people, including seven children, are killed in gun-related tragedies every day in the United States.

"So I’m asking you guys to think of my sweet little Daniel and what was lost here," he told lawmakers. "And the 90 American families who will lose a loved one today. And the 90 American families who will lose a loved one tomorrow. And so on, every day, until we do something."

On Tuesday, Obama's executive actions drew the first of what's expected to be several legal challenges. Freedom Watch, a conservative advocacy organization, argued in its lawsuit that Obama was circumventing Congress in an effort to write new gun laws.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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