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Attorney General Loretta Lynch Defends Obama Actions On Gun Control


On Capitol Hill today, Republicans blasted the Obama administration's executive actions on guns. The president wasn't there to defend them. Instead, his attorney general took the grilling. NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.


RICHARD SHELBY: This hearing will come to order.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, opened the session with a message for the White House.


SHELBY: It's clear to me that the American people are fearful that President Obama is eager to strip them of their Second Amendment rights.

JOHNSON: Shelby summoned the nation's top law enforcement officer to testify about what he calls an end run around Congress. He's upset about moves by the Obama administration to press more people to register as gun dealers and to expose more gun buyers to background checks. But Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended the actions.


LORETTA LYNCH: I have complete confidence that the common-sense steps announced by the president are lawful. They are consistent with the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court and the laws passed by Congress.

JOHNSON: Shelby, who's facing a challenge in his state's Republican primary, wasn't buying it. He said the Justice Department isn't enforcing gun laws already on the books.


SHELBY: As we've seen time and again, this president used tragic events to push his political agenda. I believe that he's more interested in grandstanding and engaging in anti-gun theatrics than actually doing the work necessary to protect this country.

JOHNSON: Another witness, Ken Cuccinelli, is the former Republican attorney general in the state of Virginia.


KEN CUCCINELLI: Nothing - not one thing in the president's executive actions related to guns that we're discussing today would have any meaningful effect on tragedies like Virginia Tech in my state or San Bernardino.

JOHNSON: He was followed by Mark Barden. His first-grader Daniel died at school in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.


MARK BARDEN: I think, especially in this context, that you take a moment to consider the humanity and the personal impact of what has been taken from us and what is at stake here.

JOHNSON: Barden now helps lead a group that pushes for gun safety measures.


BARDEN: President Obama is trying to do something. Please help him.

JOHNSON: For her part, the Attorney General said the administration hopes the hire hundreds of new agents. That includes 200 for the resource-strapped Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Those agents can help local police fight violent crime. And Lynch wants 230 more people at the FBI to help with the overwhelming volume of federal background checks. The administration want to have background checkers working every day, 24 hours a day by the end of the year.


LYNCH: I am confident that these actions will help to make our people safer, our communities more secure and our law enforcement more effective. But I also have no illusions that these measures by themselves will end gun violence in America.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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