ADAMS — While there is already plenty of opposition to President Obama's executive order to expand background checks for gun buyers, there is measured support for it from a local gun shop owner and a member of the local law enforcement community.
And a Williams College professor of political science and constitutional law says the president's action is on legally firm ground and is likely to be upheld in the face of inevitable litigation.
"Background checks do work," said Tom Decker, co-owner of Pete's Gun Shop in Adams. "But there are a lot of illegal dealers. All the legal shops have to jump through hoops, and they should, too — we need to ensure that whoever buys a gun has a clean background. And the fact that they're hiring more Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents to conduct more background checks is a good thing."
He said federal background checks sometimes get held up because there are a limited number of ATF personnel to conduct them, leading to some buyers receiving a gun before the background check is conducted. And if the buyer's application is denied after that, it could be difficult to get the firearm back from the buyer.
Decker said that while every licensed gun dealer in the U.S. is required to conduct the federal instant background check, most dealers at gun shows are reputable, as are most gun shows. But there are some who are more casual about selling firearms, and get around the need for background checks by making person-to-person sales.
He added that the vast majority of buyers at gun shows do go through the proper channels and background checks. But there are some sellers at some gun shows that do not do the checks, and others who operate out of their homes, or even their cars, who should be conducting the checks but avoid it nonetheless.
"It happens. So there is some room for improvement there," Decker said. "But a criminal can buy any gun they want if they do it illegally. It's not the lawful gun owners we need to worry about."
North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights, was also supportive of the call for expanded background checks for gun buyers.
"Background checks are very helpful, especially with mental health issues," he said. "And with this new executive order, law abiding citizens will see no difference. And the big thing we need to do is keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. So I'm hopeful this will help."
Justin Crowe, a professor of political science at Williams College who specializes in constitutional law, said Obama's executive order will not be a massive cure-all for gun violence, and its impact will be limited in terms of scope and reach, but will slightly increase the number of background checks on gun purchasers and is not over-reach on the president's part.
"I have no doubt that it will be legally challenged," Crowe said. "But I think that what the president did was constitutional and will be deemed proper. The president is on pretty firm ground with this."
He said one of two legal avenues available to pursue overturning Obama's action would be to claim he is overstepping his boundaries as chief executive and engaging in legislative action.
"But when you look at what he did, it was simply an administrative order telling a federal agency to slightly adjust how to conduct its business," Crowe said.
People at gun shows and elsewhere are able to get around the requirement for a federal license to sell guns by calling themselves gun lobbyists or gun enthusiasts, but who are obviously in the business of selling firearms for profit, Crowe noted. Obama's order expands the requirement for gun checks to all gun sellers, no matter what they call themselves and even if they are not federally licensed.
"These people are clearly gun sellers no matter what they call themselves, and they should be conducting background checks," Crowe said. "And if they don't, they should be reminded that there are criminal penalties involved."
The other avenue for a challenge would be to claim that the order violates the Second Amendment, he noted.
"But the government has the right to regulate gun sales — no constitutional right is absolute," Crowe added. "So I don't see a lot of basis for such a challenge. This was a modest executive action and I think the president is on very safe ground."
During his Monday night address to the nation, Obama praised the gun dealers who already go the extra mile to be sure the guns they sell wind up in responsible hands.
"Some gun retailers are already stepping up by refusing to finalize a purchase without a complete background check, or by refraining from selling semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines," he said. "And I hope that more retailers and more manufacturers join them — because they should care as much as anybody about a product that now kills almost as many Americans as car accidents."