ATF 'Rules Change' Would Force ALL People Selling Guns To Register & Do Background Checks

P. Gardner Goldsmith | February 6, 2024
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Jacob Sullum reports for Reason that the ATF is ready to act on a year-old Biden “Executive Order,” and you can bet it’s another power-grab against your rights.

Sullum notes:

“Nearly a year ago, President Joe Biden issued an executive order aimed at ‘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.’ According to the watchdog group Empower Oversight, which cites two unnamed ‘whistleblowers’ at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the agency is working on regulations that would go all the way, purporting to require background checks for all private gun sales. It is hard to see how the ATF can do that ‘without additional legislation.’"

Of course, with or without additional legislation, every politician and bureaucrat at every level of government in the US is strictly prohibited from infringing on the natural right to keep and bear arms. But that doesn't seem to matter to gun-grabbers.

Sullum covers the current unconstitutional set of mandates, and what appears to be on the ATF agenda:

“Under current federal law, background checks are required only for sales by federally licensed dealers. A rule that the ATF proposed last September would expand the definition of ‘dealer’ to encompass some but not all occasional gun sellers. But even that controversial proposal does not go as far as the plan described by Empower America'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.’"

That ought to be enough for principled people to oppose the proposed “rule,” but Sullum offers additional context to see some of the inner workings of this invidious government machine:

“Federal law defines a gun dealer as someone who is ‘engaged in the business of selling firearms,’ which until 2022 was defined as ‘devot[ing] time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.’ The 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) excised ‘with the principal objective of livelihood and profit’ and replaced it with ‘to predominantly earn a profit.’"

What business is it of any outside party to know the peaceful private exchanges of others?

Related: A Trend? Multiple States Face Down Unconstitutional Federal Laws and 'Regulations'

In case folks are interested in the system their slave-masters have created, tweaked, and re-tweaked, Sullum continues with more of the details:

“’As the Congressional Research Service explains, that change was intended to require persons who buy and resell firearms repetitively for profit to be licensed federally as gun dealers, even if they do not do so with 'the principal objective of livelihood.' According to the amendment's supporters, ‘there was confusion’ about whether the definition of dealers as people ‘engaged in the business of selling firearms’ covered ‘individuals who bought and resold firearms repetitively for profit, but possibly not as the principal source of their livelihood.’ The statutory definition still explicitly excludes ‘a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.’"

And from that unconstitutional “statutory definition,” the feds want to expand their arrogation of power, their assumptive seizure of our rights.

The ATF offered its first hint last September, but that was just the start:

“The proposed rule that the ATF published in the Federal Register on September 8 addresses what it means to be ‘'engaged in the business' as a dealer in firearms.’ Previous proposals considered by the Obama administration and pitched by Vice President Kamala Harris when she ran against Biden in the 2020 presidential primaries would have deemed someone a ‘dealer’ if he sold more than a specified number of firearms in a year. But ‘rather than establishing a minimum threshold number of firearms purchased or sold,’ the ATF says, ‘this rule proposes to clarify that, absent reliable evidence to the contrary, a person will be presumed to be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms’ if he meets any of several criteria.”

The September ATF “proposal” pushed the idea that it would categorize someone as a “firearms dealer” (thus forcing on them all the mandates to run checks and report to the feds) if he or she "sells or offers for sale firearms, and also represents to potential buyers or otherwise demonstrates a willingness and ability to purchase and sell additional firearms." But there’s more… In that late summer announcement, the ATF also said it would call someone a firearms dealer if he or she "spends more money or its equivalent on purchases of firearms for the purpose of resale than the person's reported taxable gross [income] during the applicable period of time," or, as Sullum notes, “...if he ‘repetitively sells or offers for sale firearms’ within 30 days after buying them, repetitively sells guns that are ‘new’ or ‘like new’ in the original packaging, or repetitively sells guns of ‘the same or similar kind’ and ‘type.’"

And Sullum observes:

“Some of these categories, especially the last one, could conflict with the statutory exclusion of collectors and hobbyists. And the ATF adds that ‘the activities set forth in these rebuttable presumptions are not exhaustive of the conduct that may show that, or be considered in determining whether, a person is engaged in the business of dealing in firearms.’ It says ‘a person would not be presumed to be engaged in the business requiring a license as a dealer when the person transfers firearms only as bona fide gifts, or occasionally sells firearms only to obtain more valuable, desirable, or useful firearms for their personal collection or hobby, unless their conduct also demonstrates a predominant intent to earn a profit.’"

Again, this is just the SEPTEMBER proposal.

Adds Sullum:

“That ‘predominant intent to earn a profit’ criterion, which is supposed to conform with the change made by the BSCA, potentially extends the definition of ‘dealer’ to encompass the collectors and hobbyists that Congress explicitly sought to protect. In essence, says Independence Institute gun policy expert David Kopel, the ATF is ‘purporting to require anyone who sells a firearm for a profit, ever,’ to obtain a dealer's license.

The plan that Empower Oversight describes would go even further. If it would in fact cover ‘every sale,’ it would not matter whether the seller made money, let alone whether that was his ‘predominant intent.’ That ‘seems like something that is legally impossible,’ Kopel says.”

The ATF is attempting to cast its net as wide as possible, and it makes no difference if this idea were promulgated by that unconstitutional agency or it is folded into “legislation.”

The US Constitution prohibits all of it. And, even if the Constitution were changed to allow gun-grabs, forced reporting, licensing, and the other sundry insults to our rights that the politicians and bureaucrats already have inflicted on us, such activity would be immoral because they run contrary to natural rights. That’s all one needs to remember. That single principle is eternal, standing like a titan against all political machinations and attacks.

We can do a great deal to defend liberty by exposing these new proposals and by revealing the dark lineage of government attacks on the right to keep and bear arms. But we can do more by adhering to principle, by stressing the eternality of the right itself.

Regardless of what the ATF does this year, we can stand for principle and educate others about the truth.