Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the swearing-in of B. Todd Jones as head… (Susan Walsh / Associated…)
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Thursday it had closed a loophole in the gun laws that allowed the acquisition of machine guns and other weapons and had banned U.S. military-style firearms that were sent overseas from returning to this country.
The announcement of the two executive actions came as Vice President Joe Biden swore in the new head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Biden pledged that the White House would not give up its effort for more gun control since the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school 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 won't act, we'll fight for a new Congress. It's that simple. But we're going to get this done."
In the past, individuals seeking to avoid personal background checks to buy machine guns and short-barreled shotguns had claimed to be "trusts or corporations." But a new ATF regulation will close that 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 in ruses to skirt the checks.
The other executive action was aimed at keeping U.S. military weapons sold to foreign governments from being re-imported to individuals in this country. Since 2005, the U.S. government has authorized requests to re-import more than 250,000 such firearms. Under the new rule, only firearms re-imported for museums and other such exceptions would be allowed.
"We're ending the practice," said Biden, who after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was given the job of overseeing an effort to come up with gun control and mental health measures. "The new policy is going to help keep military-grade firearms off our streets."
The executive actions drew quick criticism from gun rights organizations, which said the requirements would not lower gun violence but only continue the president's fight against legitimate gun enthusiasts.
"Evidently he's been elected king and not president," said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. "He's made it fairly clear that he doesn't like the 2nd Amendment."
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said: "This is an outrage. The only people being hurt are law-abiding citizens." He added that legislation was pending in Washington to prevent the changes.
Others welcomed the executive orders.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that 90% of the American public demanded stronger background checks, and that "today the Obama administration locked one backdoor used to get around" those firearm inspections.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York said in a statement that they hoped the executive actions would spur Congress to adopt even more gun control measures.
"Every day, 33 people are murdered with guns in our country," they said. "It's time for Congress to stop dragging its feet."
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. praised Jones for his service as acting director and for helping rebuild the bureau. Jones was appointed after the bureau became mired in fallout from the flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation that led to the departure of numerous top officials.
"I know this agency's work has, in many ways, never been more difficult," Holder said. "And I recognize that you've all been asked to do more and more with increasingly limited resources, while acting in a manner that is smart, effective and in keeping with our most treasured values."
Alexei Koseff in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.