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The Biden administration tries to close the 'gun show loophole'

David Martin Davies

The Biden administration announced this week that it is tightening what is frequently called the “gun show loophole.” The Department of Justice is changing the definition of what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms.

This is in accordance with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was passed in 2022 after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, which left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Stephanie Feldman is the director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. She spoke with TPR's David Martin Davies about this change.

Feldman: The federal background check system used for firearm purchases is one of the best tools we have to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and other violent individuals. But there are tons of loopholes in the system, and we know that people who are unlicensed dealers of firearms and not running background checks are one of the biggest sources of guns that are trafficked in communities across the country and often end up in crime scenes and are used to take lives.

So today, President Biden is implementing a provision of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to expand the category of individuals who are required to run background checks and become licensed dealers, which is going to mean fewer guns without background checks.

Davies: So that could encompass a lot of people who sell guns. I've seen guns sold at gun shows here in Texas where people meet in a parking lot and sell a gun. I've seen guns sold at garage sales. This is without anyone asking questions, and there's no background check. So who will have to adapt to comply with this expansion of this law?

Feldman: So, this is not about you selling your personal collection or you inheriting guns and trying to sell them and liquidate them. This is not about maybe you got a gun for a gift 10 years ago and you don't want it anymore, and so you're selling it. What we are going after here are commercial sales of firearms. What the rule does is it specifically lays out the types of conduct that mean that you are going to be presumed to be in the business of selling firearms for the purpose of profit and therefore need to become a licensed dealer.

For example, if you're selling a table full of Glocks or similar firearms at a gun show, the Department of Justice is going to assume that you're engaged in the business of selling firearms unless you have some credible evidence that maybe these are all part of your personal collection or that you aren't in it for profit. So there are examples laid out in the rule of exactly the type of conduct that is going to mean that you need to run background checks and become licensed dealers.

Davies: Do you think this makes the U.S. safer?

Feldman: Absolutely. We know licensed guns that are obtained through unlicensed sellers are one of the major sources of firearms trafficked throughout this country. We know that people prohibited from purchasing firearms — for example, a shooter who, the Columbine shooters or the shooter who obtained the gun for the Odessa, Texas, shooting that happened a couple of years ago — they all obtained firearms through unlicensed sellers.

This is not about preventing law abiding citizens from purchasing firearms. It's about making sure guns don't get in the hands of people who are danger to themselves or others.

Davies: If someone bought a gun through that process and now this loophole is being closed — they're not going to lose their gun, are they? Will anyone’s guns be taken away through this?

Feldman: So there is a myth that the federal government is out there trying to take guns. That is not true. If you are a law abiding citizen, and you are a responsible gun owner, you have a right to bear arms in this country.

What we're trying to do is make sure that people prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms — which is domestic abusers, felons, and other people who are a danger to themselves or others — that they don't have access to firearms.

Davies: There are going to be pro-gun advocates out there who are going to be upset. How will you counter their outrage?

Feldman: I think that if people take the time to understand what this is doing and the fact that we're just trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who are already prohibited from purchasing them, they'll end up supporting this action. What I know for sure is that the vast majority of Americans support this rule. In fact, I think 380,000+ people provided comment on the rule through the public comment process, and three quarters of them supported the law.

So what we're finally seeing is we're seeing the vocal majority of Americans who support comments and legislation speak out, and they're calling for exactly this type of action because they want to save lives.

Davies: So anyone who wants to legally purchase a gun in the U.S. and is legally eligible, they can still buy a gun in the U.S.?

Feldman: Absolutely. There are gun stores all across this country where people can purchase guns — and responsible gun owners exist all across this country. I have responsible gun owners in my office, in the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. We are not anti-gun. We are pro saving lives.

Davies: What about this crackdown on ghost guns? Can you explain what a ghost gun is, and what's happening here?

Feldman: So ghost guns are guns that are un-serialized. Sometimes they're made at home. Sometimes people get guns, and then they'll file off the serial number. And the problem is when they end up at crime scenes, which law enforcement are telling us they increasingly are — it's hard to trace back. It's hard for law enforcement to trace back and figure out who the shooter, 'who do we think, where did this gun come from?'

And so what the Biden Harris administration did two years ago is issued a rule to make clear that when these companies are selling ghost gun kits that can be converted into a functional firearm within as little as 30 minutes, that they're really just selling a firearm. And that's illegal to sell a firearm without a serial number.

We need federal legislation to ban the possession of un-serialized firearms, period. And President Biden is calling for that legislation. But in the meantime, we're making sure that people can't use the loophole of just saying 'it's a kit, not a gun' to skirt the law.

Copyright 2024 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.