The new executive orders are part of a list of 23 steps U.S. President Barack Obama is taking on his own to curtail gun violence in a country with an enduring and historical affection for firearms. Although far from radical, the new measures sparked immediate condemnation from U.S. gun rights activists.
The initiatives, to be implemented without congressional approval, come four months after Obama failed to push tougher gun control measures through the Senate in the face of vehement opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association and most of the Republican lawmakers backed by the organization.
"The president and I are going to continue to do work with the Congress to continue to strengthen gun safety laws in this country," said Vice-President Joe Biden, Obama's pointman on gun control since last year's horrific mass shooting in rural Connecticut that left 21 six- and seven-year-olds dead.
"If Congress doesn't act, we'll fight for a new Congress. It's that simple," said Biden at the swearing-in ceremony for the new head of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives bureau (ATF). "But we're going to get this done. We're going to get this done."
In a fact sheet announcing the executive orders, the White House said Obama and Biden "remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress toward reducing gun violence."
The NRA, meantime, condemned the White House.
"This administration should get serious about prosecuting violent criminals who misuse guns and stop focusing its efforts on law-abiding gun owners," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
The NRA has long insisted it merely advocates for the constitutional right to bear arms for average American citizens. In recent years, however, there's been increasing evidence that the lobby group receives major funding from gun manufacturers and private security firms.
Social media, predictably, erupted with gun rights supporters accusing Obama of thumbing his nose at the U.S. Constitution and warning that the federal government is scheming to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens.
Yet one of the executive orders is aimed specifically at convicted felons or domestic abusers prohibited from possessing firearms like machine guns and short-barreled shotguns. Under current law, those individuals can evade background checks and obtain such weapons legally by registering them to a trust or corporation.
Biden said that in the past year alone, the ATF received 39,000 requests to transfer restricted firearms to trusts or corporations.
"It's a very artful dodge," he said.
The new initiative will require anyone associated with trusts or corporations acquiring machine guns or other dangerous firearms to undergo background checks, just as they would as individuals.
The other measure would put a stop to the re-importation of military weapons into the U.S. The White House will now deny requests to bring the firearms back into the country to private entities, with exceptions made for institutions like museums.
"We're ending the practice of allowing countries to send back to the United States these military weapons to private citizens," Biden said, calling both measures "simple, common-sense ways to reduce gun violence."
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group pushing for tougher gun control laws, applauded the administration.
"Like so many things about our gun policy, it is almost ridiculous to think that these steps were necessary," the organization said in a statement.
"It is common sense to prevent felons from so easily circumventing background checks, and we should not allow private entities to purchase military-grade assault weapons any more than we should allow them to buy tanks."
Gun control, nonetheless, remains a hot-button issue in the United States, where there are an estimated 300 million guns in circulation, or at least one firearm in as many as 45 per cent of the nation's homes.
America's long love affair with guns stems from a long-held distrust of big government. Early settlers were pioneers and revolutionary rebels, and guns are therefore considered central to the American identity, particularly in the South and the West.
But gun control advocates insist that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing the right to bear arms, has been twisted by gun enthusiasts to a degree never intended by the country's Founding Fathers, who couldn't have imagined the firepower of today's guns.
In the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the Obama administration has been pushing hard for expanded background checks and other gun control measures. But efforts to push those measures through Congress proved futile this spring.Suggest a correction