When customers are denied the ability to purchase a new firearm, employees at The Gun Guys don’t always know why.
At the counter in the 415 S. Main St., Ottawa, business, customers pay $25 for a background check, which is run through The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, before leaving the store with a new gun, owner Tim Van Leiden said. The requests to purchase are either accepted, delayed up to three days or completely denied based on the checks, he said.
The paperwork and electronic verification are part of a process required by licensed gun sellers and a step being emphasized nationally in a recent effort to control gun violence.
In a 37-minute speech Tuesday, President Obama announced several steps — executive action without the need for Congressional input — he’s taking in reaction to mass shootings in such high-profile cases as Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, Charleston, South Carolina, and most recently San Bernadino, California.
“Instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates — despite the fact that there’s a general consensus in America about what needs to be done,” Obama said.
Four of his main points focused on keeping guns out of the wrong hands through background checks, making communities safer from gun violence, increasing mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system, and shaping the future of gun safety technology, according to the White House website.
While gun storefronts, such as The Gun Guys, already are required to conduct background checks, some sellers at gun shows, auctions and on the Internet don’t take the step, Van Leiden said.
He said he was unsure how specifically or broadly Obama would define gun sellers.
In his speech, Obama said a recent study found that about one in 30 people buying guns on one website had a detected criminal record.
“The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules,” Obama said. “A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked.”
Van Leiden said he sells guns online through a website called GunBroker.com — similar to eBay, but strictly for guns — where individual sellers are required to ship through a licensed seller to another licensed seller, where the receiver then must undergo a background check.
“You can’t just sell a gun on the Internet and ship it to somebody’s house,” he said.
Background checks are necessary to reduce dangerous and violent people from qualifying, he added.
One customer who was denied at The Gun Guys, Van Leiden said, came back three years later to find he was denied again. Van Leiden said the man told him he had nothing on his record besides a few traffic violations. After appealing the denial, Van Leiden said, the man came back to say he was told he had the same name and birth date and a similar social security number as a felon.
One initiative stated in Obama’s Tuesday speech was a move by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm and Explosives (ATF) to establish an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearm trafficking and dedicate $4 million and additional staff to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, according to the White House website.
Additionally, Obama said the ATF is enforcing a rule that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit — which Van Leiden said he has done in the past.
Despite Obama’s steps to protect the nation, many people have said they feel their right to keep and bear arms is being infringed upon.
In an online poll conducted by The Ottawa Herald, about 40 percent of those who responded by Wednesday afternoon indicated they think Obama has overstepped his authority. About half of the polls respondents supported the president’s action.
Richard E. Levy, a University of Kansas professor with expertise in constitutional law, said there are two constitutional arguments people might raise: the first has to do with the increase in background checks violating the Second Amendment, the second explores whether Obama has tread on the legislative powers of Congress.
Already, two instrumental cases that challenged the Second Amendment led to allowing lower courts to uphold the rights of the states and federal government to impose certain licensing regulations, such as restricting convicted felons from owning firearms, Levy said.
Obama in his speech addressed other specific constraints.
“We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people,” Obama said. “We cherish our right to privacy, but we accept that you have to go through metal detectors before being allowed to board a plane. It’s not because people like doing that, but we understand that that’s part of the price of living in a civilized society.”
Levy said how Obama’s action is interpreted, adopted and possibly enforced by state and federal agencies will depend on the administrative procedures that follow.
Van Leiden said he doesn’t expect operations of the local gun store to change much yet. Actions are likely to require sellers at auctions and gun shows to become licensed and conduct background checks.
Amelia Arvesen is a Herald staff writer. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AmeliaArvesen.