The widow of the late State Sen. Clementa Pinckney was among a dozen family members of high-profile gun violence victims who stood behind President Barak Obama Tuesday as he announced new initiatives on gun sales.
Jennifer Pinckney lost her husband in June after a suspected white supremacist killed Sen. Pinckney and eight others at a Charleston church Bible Study. The President referenced the Emanuel AME Church shooting in his White House speech, saying the “right to worship freely and safely” was denied to the victims in that mass shooting.
Among other initiatives, Obama said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would clarify that anyone who regularly sells guns must be treated as “dealers” and follow the same requirements as licensed gun sellers. The move is meant to target weapons sales at gun shows or online. Current federal law does not require unlicensed dealers to do the background checks if they only make occasional sales.
The President also said ATF would hire more than 200 new examiners to ensure better enforcement of existing background check laws. For example, the FBI has previously said suspected Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof was able to purchase a gun despite his previous arrest on drug charges. FBI officials said a clerical issue led the wrong police agency to be listed as arresting Roof four months before the church attacks. When the FBI conducted the check months later, the incorrect agency they contacted had no information about any previous Roof arrest. Roof was then able to purchase the gun after the required three days passed without an FBI rejection.
Republicans for the most part attacked the proposal as executive overreach, saying the White House was trying to circumvent Congress by effectively creating new laws.
“Every American should be concerned about the executive actions announced by President Obama,” US Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement. “I fear it may prove to be yet another executive overreach and affront to our constitutional system of checks and balances.” Graham’s fellow South Carolina US Sen. Tim Scott echoed the senior senator, saying the President’s actions “show a troubling pattern of simply ignoring” Congress.
Scott also argued none of the proposed expanded background would have likely stopped the Emanuel AME Church shootings, since Roof bought his handgun with a licensed dealer.
Congressman Mick Mulvaney withheld judgment, saying the “Devil is in the details” on how the executive orders would be enforced to keep guns from violent felons and individuals with a history of mental illness. “What you want to do is prevent those folks from getting guns, but not prevent my dad from selling me a gun that has been in my family for a long time,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “The question is going to be, when we see the details… is what exactly is the President doing? Is he properly following his executive authority? Or is he legislating?”