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Obama To Expand Background Checks, Monitoring Of Gun Sales

The president's plan will require hundreds of federal agents to improve enforcement of background checks by gun sellers online and at gun shows.

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch looks toward U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting with other top law enforcement officials to discuss what executive actions he can take to curb gun violence, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington Jan. 4, 2016.

President Obama plans to move forward Tuesday with a series of executive actions meant to expand background checks on firearm sales, including online and at gun shows.

The actions meant to bypass a gridlocked Congress are the most aggressive executive measures Obama has taken since the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and come one week after he announced a task force that included U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to come up with a plan aimed at curbing gun violence.

On a conference call Monday night, Lynch said Obama’s actions will focus heavily on overhauling the national firearms background check system in order to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The measures will also require more government workers to focus on policing gun sales. Through the executive actions, the White House hopes to add 200 new Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents and more than 230 FBI agents to ensure anyone selling guns for profit is conducting background checks on all purchasers.

“We will be looking for those individuals who seek to avoid registering,” Lynch said.

The background check exception for hobbyists and collectors who trade guns will remain, but Lynch noted that anyone who “hides behind the exceptions” will be targeted.

The second piece of the Obama administration’s efforts to improve the background check system will be to build a new online system that it can operate 24/7.

The current system, Lynch said, is “working with the best of 1990s technology."

According to the White House, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System received more than 22.2 million background check requests last year, an average of more than 63,000 per day.

Lynch added that federal officials will be ramping up online monitoring of gun transactions because so many are now happening on the "dark web," which makes it impossible to know how many additional firearms dealers currently exist.

The administration is also proposing other measures, such as a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care. And the Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin a process to include information in the background check system about which beneficiaries are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

From Oval Office on Monday, Obama conceded that while strengthening the gun monitoring measures won't solve "every violent crime in this country," he said the potential impact could still be significant.

"It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses," he said.

But as in prior attempts to move past Congress with executive actions, Obama is expected to face some pushback, particularly from those in the Republican party who feel the president is overstepping.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Monday accused the president of “at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will.”

"Ever since he was a candidate, President Obama’s dismissiveness toward Americans who value the Second Amendment has been well documented," Ryan said in a statement. "He acts as if the right to bear arms is something to be tolerated, when in truth – as the Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2008 – it is fundamental. The same goes for the Constitution and its limits on executive power.”

Asked if Congress could block some of Obama's measures by controlling the funding that would need to be freed up to hire the additional agents, Lynch said the administration was confident in its ability to move them through.

"We’re very comfortable that the president can take these actions now," she said.

Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

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