"I think there is an individual right to bear arms, but it's subject to commonsense regulation" like background checks, he said during a news conference.
What changed his mind?
Fox News had the story yesterday regarding the Obama administration's reversal of its earlier decision to allow the sale of 86,000 M1 Garand and 22,000 Carbines to American gun collectors. As it turns out, the administration doesn't have so much confidence in "background checks" or other measures to guarantee that these collectible firearms do not end up in the hands of very bad people.
The Volokh Conspiracy reported on this in mid-August, noting the historic aspect of the guns:
These self-loading were rifles introduced in 1926 and 1941. As rifles, they are especially well-suited to community defense in an emergency, as in the cases of community defense following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Along with AR-15 type rifles, the M1 rifles are the quintessential firearms of responsible citizenship, precisely the type of firearms which civic responsibility organizations such as the Appleseed Project teach people how to use.
It's highly unlikely that these weapons would actually fall into the hands of drug dealers or terrorists any more than any other weapon can and unless the administration intends to ban all firearms then this decision doesn't make a lot of sense.
Collectors focused on historic military collectibles would have a treasure trove with these South Korean weapons which were used by American soldiers in the Korean War. There are many collectors groups focused strictly on the M1 Garand alone.
Volokh looks at the legality of the sale:
But in fact, increasing gun density in the United States has been associated with steeply declining rates of gun accidents. In 1948 there were .36 guns per person. (That is, about one gun for every three Americans.) By 2004, there was nearly one gun for every American. In 1948, there were 1.6 fatal gun accidents per 100,000 persons. By 2004, the rate had fallen by 86%, so that there were .22 fatal accidents per 100,000 persons. (For underlying data, see Appendix B of my amicus brief in Heller.)
Legally, it is indisputable that the guns are importable. Being over 50 years old, the rifles are automatically “Curios and Relics” according to federal law. 27 CFR section 478.11. Accordingly, they are by statutory definition importable. 18 USC section 925 (e)(1). Notwithstanding the law, the Obama administration has the ability to pressure the South Korean government to block the sale of the guns.
Fox reports that other administrations have dealt with this issue before:
The Clinton administration blocked sales of M1s and other antiquated military weapons from the Philippines, Turkey and Pakistan. It also ended the practice of reselling used guns owned by federal agencies, ordering that they be melted down instead.
In contrast, 200,000 M1 rifles from South Korea were allowed to be sold in the U.S. under the Reagan administration in 1987.
But, since candidate Obama professed concern for the Second Amendment and expressed faith in those legal protections such as background checks, he should, in fact, allow these collectible firearms into the American market.