By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House announced two changes to federal gun rules on Thursday to help keep weapons from criminals, but said it still wants to push Congress to pass new gun control measures in the wake of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last year.
The Justice Department will write a regulation requiring background checks for people who register machine guns or short-barreled shotguns through a trust or corporation, closing one loophole on background checks.
The administration also will stop allowing imports of surplus military firearms that the government has provided or sold overseas.
President Barack Obama made tougher gun laws a top priority after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
But Congress rejected proposals to restrict certain types of guns and close loopholes in background record checks of gun buyers after gun rights lobbying groups said the measures would infringe on constitutional rights.
Vice President Joe Biden told reporters that he and Obama still hope to push Congress to pass the comprehensive changes.
"If Congress doesn't act, we'll fight for a new Congress. It's that simple," Biden said at a White House ceremony to swear in Todd Jones, the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
In the meantime, Biden said the administration will take executive actions that don't require congressional approval.
Under U.S. law, machine guns and short-barreled shotguns must be registered, and buyers must be fingerprinted and pass a background check, unless the gun is registered to a trust or corporation.
Last year, the ATF received more than 39,000 request to transfer the restricted guns to trusts or corporations.
"It's a very artful dodge to get around for people who are not capable legally of owning weapons to be able to gain access," Biden said.
The second change will effectively ban the re-import of military firearms that the United States has sold or provided in overseas aid.
Since 2005, the government has approved the re-import of more than 250,000 surplus military weapons, Biden said.
"We're ending the practice of allowing counties to send back to the United States these military weapons to private citizens," he told reporters.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)