Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended President Barack Obama's executive actions curbing guns, telling lawmakers Wednesday that the president took lawful, common-sense steps to stem firearms violence that kills and injures tens of thousands of Americans yearly.
Lynch's support for the modest election-year measures Obama announced two weeks ago was certain to draw criticism from the Republicans who control Congress. GOP presidential candidates and lawmakers have condemned the president's move as an infringement of the constitutional right to own guns and an overreach of executive branch powers.
"I have complete confidence that the common sense steps announced by the president are lawful," Lynch said in her prepared remarks to the Senate Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the Justice Department. She called the moves "well-reasoned measures, well within existing legal authorities, built on work that's already underway."
Obama's actions include new guidance on who the government will consider "in the business" of selling firearms — a phrase used to describe which dealers must obtain federal licenses and conduct background checks on buyers. Even those selling a few guns online or at gun shows can be required to get licenses and perform background checks, the administration said.
Other steps include hiring 230 more FBI examiners so more background checks can be run; 200 additional agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; federal research on gun safety technology and a request for $500 million to improve mental health programs.
Lynch said Obama's 2017 budget, to be released in February, will seek $80 million for his gun proposals, largely for the additional FBI and ATF agents.
GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush have said they would repeal Obama's orders if elected, while Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another contender, called them unconstitutional. House Republicans said they will create a task force to study "executive overreach" by Obama and other presidents.
Most Democrats have supported Obama's actions.
"I'm fighting to give the Justice Department the tools they need to protect families and communities from gun violence," said Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, top Democrat on the Appropriations panel.
Gun violence has grown anew as a political issue following last month's mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people were killed. Obama failed to push gun curbs through Congress in the months following the 2012 killings of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, and the GOP-led House and Senate remain opposed to restricting firearms.
As Obama has conceded, Lynch told the senators she has "no illusions that these measures by themselves will end gun violence in America." She said she hoped Congress would work with the administration on the issue — an aspiration that seems unlikely, especially in an election year.
Government statistics show that over 30,000 Americans die from firearms wounds yearly, two-thirds of which are suicides.