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DOJ Publishes New Rule That Massively Expands Background Checks For Gun Purchases

The Department of Justice (DOJ) published a new federal regulation Wednesday that will expand the regime of federal firearms background checks to cover guns purchased online, at gun shows and in informal markets.

In August of 2023, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced a new rulemaking proposal to redefine when someone is “engaged in business” as a gun dealer subject to background check regulations, using new authorities granted by a bipartisan gun control law passed by Congress following a deadly school shooting at Uvalde, Texas in 2022. The measure is the latest action by the Biden administration to advance gun control measures, which have included rules to crack down on the sales of unserialized firearms, known commonly as “ghost guns.”

“Under this regulation, it will not matter if guns are sold on the internet, at a gun show, or at a brick-and-mortar store: if you sell guns predominantly to earn a profit, you must be licensed, and you must conduct background checks,” Attorney General Merrick Garland announced. “This regulation is a historic step in the Justice Department’s fight against gun violence. It will save lives.”

“There is a large and growing black market of guns that are being sold by people who are in the business of dealing and are doing it without a license; and therefore, they are not running background checks the way the law requires. And it is fueling violence,” wrote ATF Director Steven Dettelbach in the press release.

The rule has been strongly opposed by gun rights groups, who argue that it will curb the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

“The ‘engaged in the business’ rule is designed to circumvent the U.S. Congress to criminalize or give the appearance of criminalizing, the private transfer of firearms,” wrote the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) in a statement in September of 2023, after the public comment period for the rule was opened. “A cynic could be forgiven for thinking the entire exercise was designed to terrorize law-abiding gun owners.”

“[T]he Proposed Rule unlawfully mandates different interpretations in civil and criminal case[s], foolishly imposes restrictions on personal arms possessed at an FFL’s location, fails to consider important sources, unconstitutionally prohibits anonymous comments, and fails to include a federalism summary impact statement,” wrote the Firearms Policy Coalition in a statement.

Many organizations that support gun control had lobbied in favor of the rule.

“Brady, the nation’s oldest gun violence prevention group, applauds this major progress in expanding our namesake Brady Background Check system, a legacy that continues to save lives every day since its enactment 30 years ago,” wrote Brady: United Against Gun Violence, an organization that backs greater gun control measures, in a statement following the rule’s passage.

Having been signed by Garland and would come into force within 30 days of publication in the Federal Register.

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