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Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch Discuss Action On Gun Control


There is about to be another political battle over gun control. President Obama is spelling out the steps he's taking to sidestep Congress and address gun violence.


BARACK OBAMA: It will potentially save lives in this country and spare families the pain and the extraordinary loss that they've suffered as a consequence of a firearm being in the hands of the wrong people.

MCEVERS: He had that to say at a meeting today with the attorney general, the director of the FBI and the head of the ATF. When he has tried to pass gun control legislation in the past, he has been blocked by Congress, so he's turning to regulatory action instead. One proposal is designed to make it harder for gun buyers to avoid background checks. NPR's Scott Horsley reports that if history is any guide, the president's effort could have the unintended effect of increasing gun sales.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: 2015 was a banner year for gun sales, and already, 2016 looks to be off to a good start. John Lamplugh has been running gun shows for more than three decades in Maryland and Pennsylvania. He says last month's terrorist attack in California drove a lot of new customers his way.

JOHN LAMPLUGH: After San Bernardino, our business went up probably 50 percent just because of people being at a Christmas party and being shot. That makes people worry.

HORSLEY: And Lamplugh says ISIS-inspired attacks aren't the only thing gun buyers fear. They're also worried that a government crackdown could make it harder to buy guns in the future.

LAMPLUGH: It's either two things. They're scared and need to protect themselves, or they're afraid that they're going to take it from them. There's the two things that drive our business.

HORSLEY: Since the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary School three years ago, President Obama has spoken out repeatedly about his desire to make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns. Dudley Brown of the National Association for Gun Rights says each time the president does so, cash registers start ringing at gun shops around the country.

DUDLEY BROWN: Yes, he is a good gun salesman.

HORSLEY: American gun makers churned out nearly 11 million guns in the year after Sandy Hook. That's twice as many as they made three years earlier. The U.S. now has twice as many guns per capita as it did in the late-1960s. Harvard researcher Deborah Azrael says there are about 300 million guns in all.

DEBORAH AZRAEL: There's a gun for every man, woman and child, more or less.

HORSLEY: But that doesn't mean every man, woman and child has one. Surveys suggest only about a third of American households have a gun these days, down from nearly half in the late-1970s. Researchers say a decline in hunting is partly responsible for that drop. Guns are increasingly concentrated in a shrinking number of households, and Azrael says statistical evidence makes it clear, the remaining gun owners are not any safer.

AZRAEL: Where access to guns is higher, more people die by suicide. More people die by homicides, and more people die from unintentional injuries.

HORSLEY: Indeed, the danger from suicide is two-and-a-half to five times higher in households with a gun. But gun show promoter John Lamplugh says that's not stopping people from stocking up.

LAMPLUGH: We've seen an increase in people that have never owned a gun. Right now, it's a protection thing 'cause we all know. You can call the police, and 14 minutes later, they get there. Well, these guys, in 14 minutes, can put down a lot of people.

HORSLEY: Lamplugh's hosting a gun show this weekend near Allentown, Pa. He's expecting a big crowd. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.