New FBI, ATF hires at the center of Obama’s gun violence reform

An inter-agency effort is at the center of President Barack Obama’s new executive actions to prevent gun violence, which he detailed Tuesday morning at the White House.

To meet a growing demand on the agency’s background check system, the FBI will hire at least 230 more National Instant Criminal Background Check System examiners and specialists. With the additional hires, the FBI will nearly double its NICS workforce.

“We’re also taking steps to make the background check system more efficient, under the guidance of [Director] Jim Comey and the FBI and Deputy Director Tom Brandon at ATF,” Obama said. “We’re going to hire more folks to process applications faster, and we’re going to bring an outdated background check system into the 21st century.”

The U.S. Digital Service will work with the FBI to overhaul the NICS. The system itself received more than 22.2 million background check requests in 2015 — an average of more than 63,000 applications per day. That number will only increase, as Obama calls for more background checks on licensed gun dealers and others who want to own more dangerous weapons.

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A more efficient and modern background check system — with new administrators and technology — would make those goals easier to achieve, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during a press briefing Jan. 5.

The goal is to process background check applications 24/7 and make it easier to notify local law enforcement officers when a prohibited person attempts to buy a gun.

The President’s fiscal 2017 budget will also include funding to add more Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives employees.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure the smart, effective enforcement of gun safety laws that are already on the books, which is why we’re going to add 200 more ATF examiners and investigators,” Obama said.

ATF also established an Internet Investigation Center, which will track illegal firearms trafficking. ATF will also add more employees — and $4 million — to make improvements to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.

Other agencies, including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, will conduct or sponsor new research on gun safety technology. Those agencies are expected to submit a report describing their research and development strategies within 90 days.

“The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore the potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The Social Security Administration will take the lead on another of Obama’s initiatives — include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from owning a gun because of mental health or other issues.

SSA will start the rulemaking process to make sure that information gets reported to NICS, the White House said.

The FBI and ATF will enforce the President’s actions with or without congressional funding for more law enforcement officers and investigators, Earnest told reporters.

“No, it is not contingent on the ability of the federal government to hire additional ATF agents,” he said. “This guidance has been issued, and it certainly does clarify that anybody who is engaged in the business of selling firearms has to get a license and to make sure that their customers are getting background checks before their customers are able to purchase a weapon. ATF, using the resources they have now, will enforce the law accordingly.”

The day before Obama’s announcements, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, said he expects the Justice Department will use existing law when preparing its fiscal 2016 spending plan and the President’s 2017 budget request.

“The House Appropriations Committee will not provide resources to your department for the development or implementation of unlawful limitations on the unambiguous Second Amendment rights of Americans,” he wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Other members of Congress are speaking out on Obama’s executive actions.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) echoed many concerns from Republicans that the President is overstepping his executive authority.

“This is yet another attempt by President Obama to bypass the American people, their elected representatives, and the Constitution itself,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “The president’s approach undermines the foundation of our democracy. The Committee will continue to conduct vigorous oversight and shine light on this administration.”

The President’s guidance comes at the start of the final year of his presidency and after comprehensive gun reform legislation died in Congress several years ago.

“The guidance will be implemented today, and that is one of the benefits of the President’s proposal,” Earnest said. “These aren’t subject to a protracted rulemaking process, but rather changes that can go into effect today.”

This guidance, Obama acknowledged, is a step his administration can take now.

“Yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight,” he said. “It won’t happen in this Congress. It won’t happen in my presidency. But a lot of things didn’t happen overnight. … Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s an excuse not to try.”