Biden Administration to Issue Rule Closing Gun-Show Loophole

Gun Rights

(Bloomberg) — The Biden administration is issuing a rule designed to close a gap that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks, in what officials are touting as one of the most significant steps to crack down on unlicensed dealers in decades.

The Justice Department move targets the so-called gun-show loophole by expanding the definition of who must obtain a license to engage in firearm sales. The regulation specifically singles out sellers online and at gun shows where background checks are often not conducted. 

More than 20,000 individuals engaged in unlicensed dealings could be affected by the changes, according to a White House official, who previewed the actions to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The final rule still awaits publication in the Federal Register, but will go into effect 30 days after. It was signed by Attorney General Merrick Garland and submitted on Tuesday.

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“All gun dealers now must conduct background checks no matter where or how they sell their merchandise,” Vice President Kamala Harris said. She added that the White House would continue to urge Congress to ban assault weapons and pass legislation that encourages states to adopt “red flag” laws, which empower family members or law enforcement to ask courts to block people who have exhibited violent behavior from owning guns.

A Justice Department official said the rule does not equate with universal background checks, which would extend to individuals who sell guns from a private collection or as a hobby. The guidance also clarifies how dealers can handle their firearm inventory after a business closes.

The department says its action aligns with the text of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — a major gun-safety law passed by Congress in 2022 — which broadened the classification of those engaged in the business of firearms dealing. An executive order signed by President Joe Biden last year charged agencies with fast-tracking implementation of the law. 

Republicans, though, say the administration is misapplying the law. GOP Senators John Cornyn and Thom Tillis, who both helped craft the law, plan to introduce a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act to block the rule. Natalie Yezbick, Cornyn’s communications director, described the administration’s move as “unconstitutional.” 

The 2022 law marked the first major federal gun-control measure in three decades, but Biden’s calls for further legislative action, including banning assault weapons and instituting universal background checks, have little chance with Republicans controlling the US House. 

The president has seized on the issue of gun violence to contrast himself with former President Donald Trump and Republicans, urging voters to send more members to Congress who will back tougher gun control. In his State of the Union address in March, Biden touted his administration’s efforts to address gun crime, including establishing the first-ever Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

“Meanwhile, my predecessor told the NRA he’s proud he did nothing on guns when he was president. After another school shooting in Iowa, he said we should just ‘get over it.’ I say we must stop it,” Biden said.

An assessment by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concluded that 40% of investigations into firearms trafficking identified unlicensed dealers as the source of the guns. A majority of the recipients of trafficked firearms, 60%, were found to be previously convicted felons, according to ATF Director Steven Dettelbach. 

“If you illegally help to arm violent people, then you too are responsible for the violence that follows,” Dettelbach said. 

Last year, federal prosecutions against illegal firearm sales without a license increased 52% from 2021 levels.

Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, helped found and is a current supporter of Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates gun-safety measures.

(Updates with details, Republican response in paragraphs 7-8)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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