The executive action President Obama announced on Tuesday reverses course on a key Clinton-era policy that sought to reduce the number of federal firearms licensees.
The Obama administration’s push to require more gun sellers to obtain a license from the ATF could under some circumstances define those who sell even a single firearm as “engaged in the business” of firearms sales. That represents a stark contrast from the Clinton administration’s approach in the 1990s, when the White House successfully slashed the number of licensees by raising fees on license applications and requiring applicants to submit both fingerprints and photographs to the ATF.
“The Clinton Administration ordered the bureau to tighten the process,” the New York Times reported at the time. “Since August, applicants have been fingerprinted and photographed as well, and the bureau now tells applicants that their names will be sent to the police, who may check on their compliance with the law.”
The actions taken by Bill Clinton, whose wife is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for President, resulted in the number of licensed dealers dropping from about 252,000 in 1993 to about 55,000 in 2014.
In 1994, ATF officials complained that many FFLs were not actually “engaged in the business” and oversight of the small sellers was cumbersome, if not impossible. “Probably 70 percent of the people holding licenses shouldn’t hold them,” one ATF spokesperson told the Times. “Most applicants declare that they intend to buy and sell guns as a primary livelihood, but in reality, the firearms bureau says, most people want to buy guns at wholesale prices for personal use,” the paper added.