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ATF’s Proposed Rule to Close Online and Gun Show Loophole: What You Need to Know

September 7, 2023

Last week, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) turned President Biden’s clear, strong executive action on background checks into action, issuing a life-saving new proposed rule that will expand background checks to individuals who engage in commercial sales of firearms. For years, gun sellers have exploited a loophole in the law to avoid conducting background checks on guns sold through advertisements, including online ads, and at gun shows — and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gave the Biden-Harris Administration the tools to help close the deadly online and gun show loophole.

The proposed rule was announced on the four year mark of the 2019 Midland-Odessa mass shooting, in which a gunman went on a rampage in West Texas, killing eight people and wounding 25 others.  The gunman purchased his weapon from a person who posted guns for sale online after failing a background check at a gun store. The person selling the gun was not a licensed dealer, so they did not conduct a background check. Had this type of rule been in place at the time, the shooter could have been prevented from acquiring his firearm.  Last year, Everytown For Gun Safety called on the Biden-Harris Administration to fully implement the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act with regulatory action that cracks down on no-background-check sales by clarifying the definition of a gun seller who is “engaged in the business.”

Here’s what you need to know about ATF’s proposed rule:

  • Earlier this year, President Biden announced a series of gun safety executive actions directing the Attorney General and ATF to clarify what it means to be “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms to move the nation closer to background checks on all gun sales. 
  • ATF has now taken the first step to do just that with its new proposed rule, which makes clear that selling guns through advertisements, including online ads, and at gun shows creates a presumption that the person is trying to make a profit. Trying to make a profit is the key test for whether a person has to become a dealer and do background checks on their gun sales.
  • ATF also made clear that certain telltale signs will create a presumption that a person is a dealer, such as offering guns for sale within 30 days of purchase, selling guns like they are new, or offering multiple of the same type of gun for sale.
  • ATF’s new background check rule tackles the commercial marketplaces that are the source of firearms for felons, domestic abusers and gun traffickers trying to avoid background checks.

The bottom line: Closing the gun seller loophole will significantly expand background checks on gun sales, keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people, and prevent tragedies like Midland-Odessa. The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed rule, and Everytown intends to submit formal comments and urges ATF to finalize this rule as quickly as possible.

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