Holder defends Obama gun-control measures to state attorneys general

The nation's top cop vehemently defended President Obama’s gun-control proposals to a room full of state attorneys general on Tuesday and said the measures would not infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners.

Attorney General Eric Holder laid out the executive actions Obama has taken to strengthen the country’s gun laws while vowing not to stop until tighter regulations are in place that will help prevent mass shootings like the one that killed 20 children and six adults in Connecticut last December.

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“We will not rest until we’ve done everything in our power to prevent future tragedies like the one that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said Holder at the annual National Association of Attorneys General conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.

The administration has been encouraging private gun sellers throughout the country to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that licensed firearm dealers have access to, according to Holder.

The Justice Department (DOJ) is also fine-tuning the federal database to make sure all the information contained within it is accurate, he said, while other agencies are finalizing regulations to increase access to mental-health services. The Centers for Disease Control has also jump started its research on gun violence again and administration officials are working with schools and houses of worship to develop better safety plans, Holder said.

“Contrary to what a few have said, all of these actions are consistent with the historical use of executive power,” the attorney general said.

“No one will infringe upon the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and gun owners,” he added. “And all are essential parts of any serious, comprehensive effort to combat gun violence — and to prevent dangerous people from acquiring, and wreaking havoc with, deadly weapons.”

Earlier this year Holder and Vice President Biden helped Obama put together a series of 23 gun-control proposals, while urging Congress to require background checks on private gun sales, limit the number of bullets a firearm’s magazine can hold and ban future sales of assault-style weapons.

Many of the proposals have a difficult road ahead, with Senate and House Republicans opposing measures they say would infringe on the personal liberties of Americans.

With such a broad range of gun-related regulations being proposed, gun-control supporters have begun to focus their attention on expanding the criminal background check system for firearm purchases.

On Tuesday, Holder urged the state attorneys general to encourage local and state law enforcement officers to use the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) — a central federal database of crime statistics with more than 11 million records, including a list of people who failed a background check under NICS — saying that “state records are the lifeblood of the system.”

Federally-licensed gun dealers are required to screen all potential buyers through an FBI database to check for felony or fugitive records and histories of spousal abuse or mental illness. Unlicensed gun sellers, however, are not required to conduct the same background checks — a so-called “loophole” that makes it possible for nearly anyone in the country to buy weapons.

Obama and Congressional Democrats are hoping to expand the screenings to all gun sales – an idea the National Rifle Association championed after the Columbine massacre in 1999, but now opposes.

While Republicans have expressed some willingness to expand the background checks in the name of public safety, they're also wary that such a move will be accompanied by establishing a new system of gun registration, which they adamantly oppose.