Biden’s Plan: Mandating Background Checks for All Gun Sales

Around a year back, President Joe Biden issued an order with the goal of “increasing the number of background checks conducted before firearm sales, moving the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation.” The watch group Empower Oversight remarks that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is working on regulations that would require background checks for all private gun sales. Under existing federal law, background checks are only necessary for sales by federally licensed dealers. A controversial proposal by the ATF in September 2022 would expand the definition of “dealer” to include some occasional gun sellers. However, this proposal does not go as far as the one described by Empower Oversight’s sources, who say “the ATF has drafted a 1,300-page document in support of a rule that would effectively ban private sales of firearms from one citizen to another by requiring background checks for every sale.” The proposed rule seeks to clarify what it means to be a dealer “engaged in the business.” The ATF claims that a person may be a dealer if they sell firearms or represent to potential buyers that they are willing to sell more firearms among others. There are several criteria that would allow someone to be considered a dealer, which potentially extends the definition of “dealer” to collectors and hobbyists that Congress sought to protect. Nonetheless, the analysis mentioned by Empower Oversight calls into question some of the ATF’s proposed criteria. The watchdog group accuses the ATF of overseeing the document’s drafting and has sent a freedom of information request for relevant records. Overall, treating all firearm sellers “the same as federal firearms licensees” would not only require an improbable reading of a supposedly unclear statute, but also go against clearly expressed congressional intent.