The measures are far less sweeping than a gun-control package the administration tried to push through Congress in the wake of December's Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting. But Biden said the actions show that he and Obama were "going to continue to do everything we can within our executive authority to try to reduce gun violence in America."
One measure would close a loophole under which felons, those convicted of domestic violence and others banned from having guns can evade required background checks by registering the gun to a trust or corporation. The ATF said it received more than 39,000 requests last year for transfers of restricted firearms to trusts or corporations.
Under the new rule, individuals associated with trusts or corporations will now have to undergo a background check in the same way they would if they were buying the guns as individuals.
The other measure will end a government practice that allowed military weapons sold or donated to allies by the federal government to be brought back into the United States by private groups. The White House said the United States has approved the re-importation of 250,000 such guns since 2005; under the new policy, only museums and a few other groups such as the government will be allowed to re-import the weapons.
Mark Barnes, a national firearms attorney based in Washington, said restricting such imports makes no sense because they were destined for curio collectors. Barnes represents Century Arms Inc., which has spent two years seeking a permit to re-import nearly 80,000 World War II-era M1 Garand rifles from South Korea.
"We are talking about a firearm that is not an assault weapon," Barnes said. "What is the point of preventing the lawful and responsible citizen from accessing a collectible?"
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in a statement that "the Obama administration has once again completely missed the mark when it comes to stopping violent crime."
"Requiring background checks for corporations and trusts does not keep firearms out of the hands of criminals," he said. "Prohibiting the re-importation of firearms into the U.S. that were manufactured 50 or more years ago does not keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. This administration should get serious about prosecuting violent criminals who misuse guns and stop focusing its efforts on law-abiding gun owners."
But Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that supports further restrictions on gun sales, welcomed the move.
"Like so many things about our gun policy, it is almost ridiculous to think that these steps were necessary," the group said in a statement. "It is common sense to prevent felons from so easily circumventing background checks, and we should not allow private entities to purchase military-grade assault weapons any more than we should allow them to buy tanks."
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