President Barack Obama is igniting a political firestorm this week by bypassing Congress with new measures to tighten U.S. gun rules that are likely to redefine what it means to be a gun dealer and possibly spark legal challenges during his final year in office.
Shares in gun makers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc rose against a falling stock market on Monday in anticipation of increased gun sales, as has happened before when the White House mulled weapon sales reform.
Obama was due to meet Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday afternoon to discuss his options.
Stymied by Congress’ inaction on gun control, the president asked his advisers in recent months to examine new ways he could use his executive authority to tighten gun rules unilaterally without needing congressional approval after multiple mass shootings generated outrage nationwide.
One option was a regulatory change to require more dealers to get a license to sell guns, a move that would trigger more background checks on buyers.
The White House had drafted a proposal on that issue previously but was concerned it could be challenged in court and would be hard to enforce.
Guns are a potent issue in U.S. politics. The right to bear arms is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the National Rifle Association, the top U.S. gun rights group, is feared and respected in Washington for its ability to mobilize gun owners. Congress has not approved major gun-control legislation since the 1990s.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday that the administration was prepared for legal challenges and had confidence that Obama’s new proposals were legally sound.
“A lot of the work that has gone on has been to ensure that we would have confidence in the legal basis of these actions,” he said, adding that the proposals would be “within the legal ability of the president of the United States to carry out.”
The president’s planned use of executive action launches his final year with a move that Republicans say exemplifies misuse of his powers. Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, rejected Obama’s proposals for legislation to tighten gun rules in 2013.
“While we don’t yet know the details of the plan, the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will,” Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in a statement.
“This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it.”
U.S. states have taken their own approaches to addressing gun violence. Texas legalized openly carrying handguns, while New York and Connecticut have banned high-capacity magazines.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. But the court also recognized that laws imposing conditions on commercial guns sale can be consistent with the Second Amendment.