DOJ eases firearm rules on nuclear plant guards

The Justice Department (DOJ) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are loosening firearm restrictions for security guards at nuclear facilities. 

Security guards who do not plan on carrying machine guns and semi-automatic assault weapons will no longer be required to undergo an FBI background check, the agencies announced Tuesday in the Federal Register.

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The move comes after the NRC and DOJ issued new rules in 2009 authorizing nuclear facilities to apply for permission to have security guards carry machine guns and semi-automatic assault weapons. Before these guidelines, only law enforcement officers could do so.

But the rules also required that security guards at all nuclear facilities go through firearm background checks, even at those facilities that did not carry machine guns.

The revised rules, which go into effect immediately, clarify that security guards at nuclear facilities that do not carry machine guns and have not applied for permission to carry them do not have to go through the same checks.

The move comes as the Obama administration continues to push for tougher gun laws and lawmakers weigh measures to provide better mental health in the wake of a series of mass shootings.

President Obama has called for tougher background checks on purchasers of firearms, but a bipartisan measure in 2013 failed to muster support in the Senate.