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Biden reveals modest steps that target gun violence

Vows new push for broader acts; foes decry moves

WASHINGTON — Months after gun control efforts crumbled in Congress, Vice President Joe Biden stood shoulder to shoulder on Thursday with the attorney general and the top US firearms official and declared the Obama administration would take two steps to curb American gun violence.

But the modest scope of those steps served as pointed reminders that without congressional backing, President Obama’s capacity to make a difference is severely inhibited.

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Still, Biden renewed a pledge from him and the president to seek legislative fixes to keep guns from those who shouldn’t have them — a pledge with grim prospects for fulfillment amid the current climate on Capitol Hill.

‘‘If Congress won’t act, we’ll fight for a new Congress,’’ Biden said. ‘‘It’s that simple. But we’re going to get this done.’’

One new policy will bar military-grade weapons that the United States sells or gives to allies from being imported back into the country by private entities. In the last eight years, the United States has approved 250,000 of those guns to come back to the country, the White House said, adding that some end up on the streets. Now, only museums and a few other entities such as the government will be eligible to reimport military-grade firearms.

The ban will largely affect antiquated, World War II-era weapons that, while still deadly, rarely turn up at crime scenes, leaving some to question the impact of the policy change.

‘‘Banning these rifles because of their use in quote-unquote crimes is like banning Model Ts because so many of them are being used as getaway cars in bank robberies,’’ said Ed Woods of the Chico area of Northern California.

Woods said he collects such guns because of their unique place in American history. He now wonders whether he’ll be prohibited from purchasing the type of M1 Garand rifle his father used during World War II. The United States later sold thousands of the vintage rifles to South Korea.

The Obama administration is also proposing to close a loophole that it says allows felons and other ineligible gun purchasers to skirt the law by registering certain guns to a corporation or trust. The new rule would require people associated with those entities, including beneficiaries and trustees, to undergo the same type of fingerprint-based background checks before the corporation can register those guns.

Using the rule-making powers at his disposal, Obama can only place that restriction on guns regulated under the National Firearm Act, a 1934 law dealing with the deadliest weapons, such as machine guns and short-barreled shotguns. For most weapons, there is no federal gun registration.

‘‘It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it’s common sense,’’ Biden said of the measures he unveiled Thursday as he swore in Obama’s new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Todd Jones, with Attorney General Eric Holder.

The quick reproach from gun control opponents, however, underscored that the same forces that thwarted gun control efforts in Congress have far from mellowed on the notion of stricter gun laws in the future.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, accused the president of governing only by executive action while failing to sufficiently enforce gun laws on the books. And the National Rifle Association called on Obama to stop focusing his efforts on inhibiting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

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