New rule to require gun show, online dealers to run background checks on buyers ‘will save lives,’ advocate says

Gun Rights

WASHINGTON – A new rule from the federal government will close what’s known as the “gun show loophole.”

Thousands more firearms dealers across the United States will now have to run background checks on buyers at gun shows or other places outside brick-and-mortar stores, according to a Biden administration rule that will go into effect in 30 days.

The rule aims to close a loophole that has allowed tens of thousands of guns to be sold every year by unlicensed dealers who do not perform background checks to ensure the potential buyer is not legally prohibited from having a firearm. Gun rights groups are expected to fight it in court.

“This is going to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and felons,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “And my administration is going to continue to do everything we possibly can to save lives. Congress needs to finish the job and pass universal background checks legislation now.”

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The rule, which was finalized this week, makes clear that anyone who sells firearms predominantly to earn a profit must be federally licensed and conduct background checks, regardless of whether they are selling on the internet, at a gun show or at a brick-and-mortar store, Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters.

It comes a week after the ATF released new data that shows more than 68,000 illegally trafficked firearms in the U.S. came through unlicensed dealers who aren’t required to perform background checks over a five-year period. The ATF report also showed that guns trafficked through unlicensed dealers were used in nearly 370 shootings between 2017 and 2021.

There’s currently a form that people have to fill out to buy a gun from a licensed seller that asks about things like criminal history, mental history, and drug use. That form then runs through a federal database, and people can get in trouble for lying. If a person doesn’t pass, they can’t buy a gun.

However, right now at a gun show or online marketplace, there’s no background check required.

“So basically right now, you could be a convicted felon with a domestic violence injunction against you and go to a gun show, show your ID and just still walk away with a gun,” Z Farhat with Green Acres Sporting Goods explained. “Yeah, I mean, they might question you a little bit, but you’re just telling them ‘no, I don’t. I’ve never been arrested, blah, blah, blah.’”

But starting next month, those customers at gun shows or on the web will have to give more than just their word.

Biden has made curtailing gun violence a major part of his administration and reelection campaign, creating the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden also has urged Congress to ban so-called assault weapons — something Democrats shied from even just a few years ago.

The rule is likely to be challenged in court by gun rights activists who believe the Democratic president is unfairly targeting gun owners. The National Rifle Association said in a statement that it is “already working to use all means available to stop this unlawful rule.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, also has warned of a court challenge if the rule was finalized as written. Lawrence Keane, the foundation’s senior vice president and general counsel, said Thursday that the organization was reviewing the regulation after contending previously that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was overstepping its legal authority.

Biden administration officials said they are confident the rule, which drew more than 380,000 public comments, would withstand lawsuits.

The administration first proposed the rule in August, after the passage of the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise in response to the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school.

That law expanded the definition of those who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, and are required to become licensed by the ATF and therefore run background checks. The rule, which implements the change in the law, will take effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Nick Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, called this new rule a “game-changer.”

“It will thwart criminals and domestic abusers from avoiding background checks and ultimately will save lives,” Suplina said.

There are already roughly 80,000 federally licensed firearms dealers. Administration officials believe the new rule will impact more than 20,000 dealers who have gotten away with selling firearms without a license and performing background checks at places like gun shows and over the internet by claiming they aren’t “engaged in the business” of firearm sales.

The rule makes clear there are instances when a license is not be needed, such people who occasionally resell firearms to a family member or liquidate their personal collection.

Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who were instrumental in the passage of the gun law, have started an effort to block the rule from going into effect. But that is unlikely to succeed because the president would have the final say.

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