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Sweet: The long, long fight to close the gun show loophole

Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens as President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, during a meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss executive actions the president can take to curb gun violence. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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WASHINGTON — I’ve been writing about unsuccessful attempts to close loopholes in gun sales since President Bill Clinton took up the cause in February 1999. Back then, the focus was on gun shows because online marketplaces had yet to develop on the Internet.

On Tuesday, when President Barack Obama issues a batch of executive orders related to curbing gun violence, a big focus will be on cracking down on all gun transactions — whether in a store, a gun show, flea market or on the Web.

Starting his final year, Obama is intentionally picking a fight with Congress over gun control. Republicans who run the House and Senate and the GOP presidential candidates are outraged.

“There is perhaps no issue in our divided politics that has frustrated President Obama more than our nation’s gun violence,” White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said on a briefing call with reporters on Monday afternoon.

Talking about all the gun tragedies that have occurred on Obama’s watch, Jarrett recalled how she and first lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down in a 2013 shooting at a park near the Obamas’ Kenwood home.


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The resistance from gun rights advocates to closing gun sale loopholes has struck me through the years as more ideologically driven, given that gun stores are regulated and purchasers have to undergo background checks before taking possession of a weapon.

A sale is a sale is a sale? Not everyone has seen it that way.

That’s why the Obama administration on Tuesday will “clarify” that if you sell firearms as a business, you have to get a license and run background checks on customers.

Obama is intent on stripping away the excuses people use to hide the fact that they sell guns. You can call yourself a hobbyist or a collector, but if you have a pattern of selling firearms for profit —online or at a show — then in the eyes of the feds you are in the gun business and will have to do background checks and face the same rules as gun dealers operating out of stores.

Under the executive action coming on Tuesday, Jarrett said a person could be considered a gun dealer even if they sell as few as two firearms over a period of time. The feds will not “identify a magic number of weapons that makes you engaged in the gun business,” Jarrett said.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, also on the briefing call, put it this way when it comes to gun sales: It’s not “where you are located,” on the Web, a store or a gun show — it’s “what you are doing.”

Obama met with Democratic lawmakers at the White House on Monday, including Illinois’ Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Robin Kelly to discuss his upcoming executive orders on guns.

Kelly said Obama told lawmakers at the meeting it was his last year, he wanted to have some kind of impact on guns and he knew it wasn’t going to happen through Congress.

FOOTNOTE: One of the first lawmakers in the nation to propose closing the loopholes was then-Rep. Rod Blagojevich, the now imprisoned former Illinois governor. His legislative cause was taken up by the Clinton White House, where then-staffer Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago’s mayor, kept an eye on crime issues.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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