Biden cracks down on unlicensed gun dealers

Guns on display at the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis, Indiana (Alex WROBLEWSKI)
Guns on display at the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis, Indiana (Alex WROBLEWSKI)

US President Joe Biden's administration moved Thursday to close loopholes that allow people to sell guns without a dealer license, which would require them to perform background checks on purchasers.

The Justice Department released detailed rules that follow the Biden-backed Safer Communities Act passed by Congress in June 2022 in reaction to the large number of shooting deaths -- especially in mass shootings -- across the country.

The rules take aim at gaps in the law that have allowed gun sellers to avoid obtaining licenses by claiming not to make money from transactions or by saying their lack of a storefront or insignificant sales volume exempts them from dealer requirements.

It also tightens the rules on collectors who buy and sell guns, and on failed gun dealers selling their inventories.

The aim, the Justice Department said, is to force more firearms sellers to check the backgrounds of prospective purchasers in a national database in order to screen out felons and others forbidden from owning guns.

It also allows the government to better track registered firearms from owner to owner.

"An increasing number of individuals engaged in the business of selling firearms for profit have chosen not to register as federal firearms licensees, as required by law," said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Instead, they have sought to make money through the off-book, illicit sale of firearms," he said in a statement.

The Justice Department said unlicensed dealing undermines federal rules aimed at increasing gun safety.

"It's just common sense because we know that background checks are one of the best tools we have to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

"This administration respects the rights of responsible gun owners, while also believing Americans have the right to live free from gun violence as well. Those two things can exist."

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-governmental organization, 44,374 people were killed by guns across the United States last year.

Gun deaths have slowed slightly this year, at 28,793 for the first eight months, according to the archive.

Suicides account for about 55 percent of all US gun deaths.