(CNSNews.com) - Keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them continues to be a priority for President Obama, and the White House is sending hints that he plans to do it soon by executive action.
Meanwhile, a White House spokesman on Thursday called it a "tragic irony" that legal gun sales are soaring.
Speaking at a vigil in Newtown, Conn. Wednesday night, Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said the president has asked his team to send him a proposal "in short order" outlining how he can use his executive authority to expand background checks on gun buyers without congressional action.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked about Jarrett's comment at Thursday's White House press briefing:
"I still don't have an update in terms of the progress that the administration is making in scrubbing the rules and determining what elements of the president's executive authority can be used to do a better job of keeping guns away from those who shouldn't have them," Earnest said.
"This means, you know, what additional steps can we take to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are mentally ill. And that's -- it's no surprise that that has been a priority of the president, but in terms of ongoing process or a timeline for rolling out some new ideas, I just don't have an update for you at this point."
Earnest noted that "Congress hasn't acted," and therefore, "the question that's been raised is what more can the Obama administration do."
Another reporter asked Earnest if recent shootings, including the terror attack in San Bernardino, are giving momentum to gun rights advocates rather than gun control activists.
"Well I guess there is some evidence to indicate this," Earnest said. "The FBI put out information that -- a week or so ago, that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many people go shopping, that they actually processed the largest number of background checks for gun purchases in history.
"So, you know, I described this, I think, in a briefing earlier this week as a tragic irony, that the more that we see this kind of violence on our streets, the more people go out and buy guns. And that is -- that is both ironic and tragic.
"I think the president's view is that he is going forcefully advocate for the kind of gun safety measures that common sense tells us will not prevent every act of gun violence, but even if it makes some acts of gun violence less likely -- and we can do all of that without undermining the Constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans -- then why wouldn't we do it?"
How are legal gun sales, complete with background checks, tragic? a reporter asked Earnest later:
"I guess the part that I'm observing is that it's tragic that in the aftermath, in the immediate aftermath of a series of high-profile mass shootings, that people feel like they have to go out and purchase a gun. Because it's our view, and again I think this is backed up by some common sense, our nation is awash in guns.
"There are statistics about the large quantity of guns that are rather readily available on street corners and in gun stores all across America. That ready access to guns and that proliferation of violent weapons of war has not led to fewer gun deaths. In fact, we're seeing that those -- that that doesn't seem to be the -- the affects that we're witnessing here.
"And so it's tragic that even in the situation where we have lots of guns on the streets that lead to lots of innocent Americans being killed, that the response to that is that a whole lot more guns end up on the streets. That's tragic and ironic."
The reporter asked, "Why do you think so many people went out an brought guns?"
"I don't know. I really don't," Earnest said. "My guess is that the 185,700 of them probably had a few different reasons for wanting to do so. I would hesitate to--
"No theory whatsoever?" the reporter asked.
"Well I -- again, I think some of them have been floated," Earnest said. " In some cases these are individuals who believe that they need to buy a gun so that they can better protect themselves. In some cases because it's Black Friday, they probably are going and purchasing a gift for a friend or a loved one who is a gun enthusiast."
Earnest did not mention another popular theory -- that all of Obama's gun control talk is prompting Americans to buy guns now, while they still can. Some say real irony is that Obama is the nation's best gun salesman.