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White House targets gun loopholes, overseas purchases

By Richard A. Serrano and Alexei Koseff

2:03 PM EDT, August 29, 2013

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced Thursday that it would close loopholes in the rules on acquiring machine guns and other dangerous weapons and ban U.S. military-style firearms sent overseas from returning to this country.

The announcement of the new executive actions came as Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office to the new head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the first Senate-confirmed director in the agency’s history. Biden pledged that the White House would not give up its efforts to set up more gun controls despite congressional inaction after the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school late last year.

“The president and I remain committed to getting these things done,” Biden said at the White House ceremony installing B. Todd Jones as the ATF’s first permanent director in seven years. “If Congress doesn’t act, we’ll fight for a new Congress. It’s that simple. But we’re going to get this done.”

In the past, some individuals seeking to avoid personal background checks when purchasing machine guns and short-barreled shotguns have claimed they were “trusts or corporations.” But a new ATF regulation will close this loophole and require them to pass background checks. Last year, the ATF said, it received more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these firearms to trusts and corporations to skirt the checks.

The other executive action was aimed at keeping U.S. military weapons sold to foreign governments from being reimported to this country. Since 2005, the U.S. government has authorized requests to reimport more than 250,000 of these firearms. Under the new rule, only firearms reimported for museums and other exceptions would be allowed.

The executive actions drew quick criticism from gun rights organizations who said the requirements will not lower gun violence but instead only continue the president’s fight against legitimate gun enthusiasts. “Evidently he’s been elected king, and not president,” Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America, said in an interview. “He’s made it fairly clear that he doesn’t like the 2nd Amendment.”

However, others welcomed the changes. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said 90% of the American public demands stronger background checks, and that “today the Obama administration locked one back door used to get around” those checks.

Richard.Serrano@latimes.com

Alexei.Koseff@latimes.com