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Obama Announcement On Gun Control Measures Sparks Republican Outrage


For reaction now, we turn to Congressman Bradley Byrne, a Republican from Alabama. He joins us from his office in D.C. Welcome to the program.

BRADLEY BYRNE: Audience good to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, for a long time, the president has been criticized for not enforcing laws that were already on the books, and here he comes with these executive actions which he argues will do just that - giving the FBI more money to, say, better monitor background checks. What's wrong with that?

BYRNE: Well, the executive action that is the biggest problem is he's trying to redefine law without going through Congress, which is not permissible under the Constitution.

CORNISH: And here, are you talking about the requirement for gun sellers who operate at gun shows, on the Internet to be licensed?

BYRNE: Right. The law does not apply to them. And I'm talking about a criminal statute, so in order for that statute to apply to them, that statute would have to be amended by the Congress. The president cannot do that unilaterally by an executive action. So in attempting to do that, he is, in fact, going around the Constitution, not enforcing the law.

CORNISH: What would you say to loyal, federally licensed gun sellers who are abiding by the law and think maybe these gun sellers who are trying to skirt the law should be caught?

BYRNE: Well, I've talked to a number of those licensed gun dealers in my own district, and I don't hear that concern from them. What I hear from them is concern there's an overreach by the federal government, and I hear that concern from a lot of my constituents who are just ordinary citizens.

If there's a problem here that we need to work on - and I think that there is - the problem is that we have too many people in America who have mental health problems, and they're able to get guns without getting the treatment that they should be getting to deal with their mental health problems. Let's deal with the mental health issue. And in the context of what happened in San Bernardino, let's tighten down on what we're able to do to stop lone-wolf attacks against American citizens.

CORNISH: Now, what the president says is that he is taking action, essentially, where Congress is not. And you know, there have been proposals in the House and in the Senate for, say, mental health care from Republicans, and they haven't gone anywhere. So why shouldn't the president do something like he's doing now - take executive action to request, you know, $500 million to increase access to mental health care?

BYRNE: Well, I share his frustration about that, but part of my frustration goes back at him and at Democrats in the Congress who simply have been unwilling to work with us on common sense changes to the mental health policy of the United States of America. So if he was really serious about this, he would work with us on that. Let's get over those differences, make those policy changes instead of trying to change the law that would have had no impact on the mass shootings that we've seen these last couple years because in each one of those cases, the shooter got a gun or somebody they got the gun from got a gun through a licensed gun dealer that, in fact, had to go through those background checks. So if you really want to get at the nub of the problem, let's deal with these mental health policies, get over our differences and do something about them.

CORNISH: So there are lots of Democrats who say, you know, every time Republicans have an issue with one of these gun-control proposals, they say, go back to mental health and, yet, no action on mental health. What's going on on the Republican side?

BYRNE: What's going on on the Republican side is we just don't have any good faith negotiating partners on the other side, and we don't have any negotiating going on with the White House. If the president really cared about this issue, then he would get personally involved, as he's made such a personal statement today. He would get personally involved in all of these efforts that we've had to try to get changes in the federal law that deals with mental health. If he would do that, I think he would find a lot of Republicans in Congress, me included, who would really like to work with him on that.

CORNISH: You know, when an issue like this comes up - a hot-button issue in an election year - can there ever really be any real discussion?

BYRNE: Yes, of course there can. And I don't think the fact that we're having a discussion is a bad thing at all. I think it's a good thing. I think there's lots of common ground, even in a presidential election year, for Republicans and Democrats to work together to defend the American people.

CORNISH: Congressman Bradley Byrne - he's a Republican from Alabama - thank you so much for speaking with us.

BYRNE: Audie, it's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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