The Justice Department plans to move forward this year with more than a dozen new gun-related regulations, according to list of rules the agency has proposed to enact before the end of the Obama administration.
The regulations range from new restrictions on high-powered pistols to gun storage requirements. Chief among them is a renewed effort to keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally unstable or have been convicted of domestic abuse.
Gun safety advocates have been calling for such reforms since the Sandy Hook school shooting nearly three years ago in Newtown, Conn. They say keeping guns away from dangerous people is of primary importance.
But the gun lobby contends that such a sweeping ban would unfairly root out a number of prospective gun owners who are not a danger to society.
“It’s clear President Obama is beginning his final assault on our Second Amendment rights by forcing his anti-gun agenda on honest law-abiding citizens through executive force,” said Luke O’Dell, vice president of political affairs at the National Association for Gun Rights.
The Justice Department plans to issue new rules expanding criteria for people who do not qualify for gun ownership, according to the recently released Unified Agenda, which is a list of rules that federal agencies are developing.
Some of the rules come in response to President Obama’s call to reduce gun violence in the wake of Sandy Hook. He issued 23 executive actions shortly after the shooting aimed at keeping guns away from dangerous people, and some of those items remain incomplete.
“If America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown,” Obama said at the time.
“We can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale,” he added.
Gun control groups have rallied around Obama’s call to action, zeroing in on polices that would keep guns away from the mentally ill and domestic abusers.
Congressional efforts to expand background checks and keep guns away from dangerous people have failed in recent years, but the legislative defeats won’t stop the Justice Department from regulating.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is looking to revive a rule proposed way back in 1998 that would block domestic abusers from owning guns.
As proposed, the regulation makes it illegal for some who has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense to own a gun.
The ATF plans to finalize the rule by November, according to the Unified Agenda.
But gun rights advocates are concerned the Obama administration will use this rule to unfairly target certain gun owners.
“That could be a person who spanked his kid, or yelled at his wife, or slapped her husband,” warned Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Gun Owners of America.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Americans for Responsible Solutions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But Everytown, a group financially backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has argued that keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers can be a matter of life or death.
“American women are 11 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other developed countries,” the group argues. “The high rate of domestic violence deaths in America is directly related to our weak gun laws. But we know that smart gun laws can—and do—stop domestic abuse from turning into murder."
The ATF is also looking to prohibit the mentally ill from owning firearms, which is attracting even more criticism from gun rights groups.
“The Obama administration is trying very hard to disqualify people from owning a gun on the basis that they are seeing a psychologist,” Hammond argued.
The NRA contends that many people who are mentally ill may not necessarily pose a danger to society — or as the gun lobby puts it, the policy “snares masses of mostly harmless individuals.”
Gun rights advocates argue it would be more effective to ban people on an individual basis, as opposed to banning all people who are mentally ill.
“A person who experienced a temporary reaction to a traumatic event or who has trouble handling household finances may well be treated the same as a violent psychopath,” the NRA wrote.
"Not only is this unjust and stigmatizing, it creates disincentives for those who need mental health treatment to seek it, increasing whatever risks are associated with untreated mental illness,” it added.
Aside from these issues, some gun rights advocates have also raised concerns about upcoming ATF rules that would require gun dealers to report gun thefts, provide gun storage and safety devices, and place restrictions on high-powered pistols, among other things.
“The Obama administration hates the Second Amendment, and it’s clear that every place where it can push, it will,” said Hammond. “This is an indication of an anti-gun administration trying to annoy us in any way it can."