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Why gun advocates should love Obama’s new gun rules

President Obama formally announced a set of executive orders on gun control on Jan.5. Here is what you need to know about how the regulations tighten gun sales (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced a set of new gun rules that might amount to a big political statement but, technically, represent a clarification of already-existing laws. The biggest change -- a provision that would require more gun sellers to be licensed as firearms dealers -- does not qualify as new regulation, and hence is not dependent on either public comment or congressional review. The provisions are so modest that initially even the NRA initially shrugged off the changes by saying "they're not really doing anything."

Still, champions of gun rights in Congress and elsewhere wasted no time in lambasting the president and his proposal -- even though it appears that many of the provisions are pretty much in line with what gun rights advocates have long demanded.

Here are a few common lines of criticism, and what the White House actually says.

1. We should focus on mental health, not gun control.

  • Rep. Larry Buchson (R.-Ind.): "Instead of limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens, we need to improve the way mental illness is treated."
  • Rep. Richard Hudson (R.-N.C.): "The president should listen to the American people and work with Congress on reforms that would actually reduce gun violence, like confronting our mental health crisis."
  • Rep. Dave Joyce (R.-Oh.): "I’ve seen firsthand how such a tragedy can rock a community. The focus needs to be on mental health."
  • Rep. Scott Perry (R.-Pa.): "A 2011 Government Accountability Office study found that many states currently fail to share felony and mental health records with the National Instant Background Check System."

What the executive actions actually do: "The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care," the White House writes in a summary of the changes. "The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

And, speaking to Perry's concerns about states sharing information, "The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons."

It sounds like the administration and its critics are on the same page about the importance of mental health changes.

2. We don't need new laws, we need to enforce existing laws.

  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.): "Congress has passed many laws to reduce gun violence already that the Obama Administration has not enforced. As we continue to look for ways to reduce violence, President Obama should enforce the laws that are already on the books."
  • Rep. Scott Perry (R.-Pa.): "We must enforce existing laws to keep guns of out the hands of violent criminals, rather than hampering the rights of law-abiding citizens."
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.): "the President should better enforce current law and work with Congress on legislation reforming our mental health system."
  • Carly Fiorina (Republican presidential candidate): "Mr. President, how about enforcing the laws we have?"

What the executive actions actually do: "The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws," according to the White House summary. The ATF is also issuing a guidance on existing gun dealer licensing requirements, to make sure that people who earn a living through trading in guns are properly licensed as gun dealers. The FBI is also working on improvements to the existing background check system, and staffing up to meet increased demands on that system in recent years.

So again: the critics and Obama are in agreement about enforcing existing laws.

3. The Obama administration does not support the 2nd Amendment.

NRA: the administration "has made no secret of its contempt for the Second Amendment."
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R.-Ky.): "Our Founding Fathers clearly spelled out the right to bear arms with the Second Amendment"

What Obama actually says: "I believe in the Second Amendment. It is there, written on the paper, it guarantees a right to bear arms."

They're all in agreement about the importance of the 2nd Amendment.

To wrap it all up: existing laws are being clarified. There's a new focus on mental health. Existing systems and personnel are being beefed up to handle the evolving landscape of the 21st century gun trade. No new laws are being put in place, and everyone agrees on the importance of the 2nd Amendment.