Announcing the agents' broader authority, Clinton cited a new federal study that pins 57 percent of guns used for criminal activity on less than 1 percent of gun dealers. It's those dealers, and particularly those who refuse to cooperate with criminal investigations, the President emphasized, who will be under the microscope now.
"The White House is starting to use some of the tools it has at its disposal to fight illegal gun use," says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen. As he sidesteps Congress, Clinton is avoiding the inevitably bitter fight with conservative Republicans and National Rifle Association supporters. (A president earlier in his tenure can ill afford to take such a course too often for fear of provoking Congress into long-term non-cooperation.) The NRA, which has long argued that Americans "don't need more laws, we need better enforcement of existing laws," will be hard-pressed to argue with Clinton's latest proposal any resistance to this hard-core enforcement measure will be widely seen as disingenuous. "This order uses the ATF to enforce laws that are already on the books," says Cohen. "And it will be interesting to see what happens, since it looks as though these laws have been largely underenforced." In fact, Cohen points out, this backdoor alteration could end up having as much an effect on gun crimes as any new law only there will be far fewer congressional filibusters to sit through.