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Here's the new plan to boost background checks for guns bought at shows or online

People look at guns and ammunition at the Great American Outdoor Show on Feb. 9 in Harrisburg, Penn. Former President Donald Trump spoke at the event.
Spencer Platt
/
Getty Images
People look at guns and ammunition at the Great American Outdoor Show on Feb. 9 in Harrisburg, Penn. Former President Donald Trump spoke at the event.

The Justice Department announced a new rule Thursday that will require anyone who sells guns to run federal background checks — a process that would cut down on what's been known as the 'gun show loophole.'

The rule expands the definition of what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms. The clarification means that background checks are required for the sale of guns not just at gun stores, but also for guns sold at flea markets, on social media and at gun shows.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the new move will save lives.

"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," Garland told reporters.

The Justice Department said the new rule, which goes into effect 30 days after it is submitted, would affect roughly 23,000 unlicensed dealers. It has the potential to impact tens of thousands of gun sales each year. It also allows for better tracing of guns that are found at crime scenes, including mass shootings.

The new rule began as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

The clarification on the definition of what qualifies as engaging in the business of dealing firearms is a follow-up to part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which President Biden signed into law in 2022.

That law tweaked the definition of who is considered a gun dealer. As a follow-up to it, Biden signed an executive order last March, directing the Justice Department to take steps to close background check loopholes.

The rule clarifies some technical aspects of selling and owning firearms. For example, it adds a definition of "personal firearms collection" to allow firearms collectors to add or liquidate their collections without breaking the law. The rule also provides clarity on what those licensed to sell guns should do with their supply if they go out of business.

The White House says this rule will withstand challenges

It's difficult to estimate exactly how many gun sales and guns will be impacted by the new rule, but the Justice Department pointed to a 2017 study showing that about 22% of Americans said they acquired their most recent gun without a background check.

A senior White House official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the administration has confidence the new ruling won't be stopped by legal challenges.

"We have confidence that this is legal. And strong regulations like this one are not in conflict with the Second Amendment" of the Constitution, the official said. "There's every reason that it should go forward."

Vice President Harris, who leads the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said the change could prevent more gun sales to people who are domestic abusers, people convicted with violent felonies and children.

She cited the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, which was carried out in part through weapons bought at gun shows without checks.

"This single gap in our background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering," Harris said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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