US to close 'gun show loophole' and require more background checks

An estimated 23,000 individuals are engaged in unlicensed gun dealing in the US

By AFP, Reuters

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Customers shop for handguns at a gun show in Des Moines, Iowa. — Reuters file
Customers shop for handguns at a gun show in Des Moines, Iowa. — Reuters file

Published: Thu 11 Apr 2024, 6:37 PM

The White House on Thursday announced a crackdown on firearms sales at gun shows and over the internet that evade US federal background checks.

Vice-President Kamala Harris, who heads the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention, told reporters the move addresses the so-called “gun show loophole.”

“Currently, gun stores are required by law to conduct a background check for every gun sale,” Harris said. “But for decades, many dealers who sell weapons someplace other than the traditional gun store... have gotten away without conducting background checks,” she said. “All gun dealers now must conduct background checks, no matter where or how they sell their merchandise.”

Aimed at closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” the rule clarifies what it means to be “engaged in the business,” so that those selling weapons at gun shows, other venues and online will face the same requirements as gun stores to check the backgrounds of would-be buyers.

An estimated 23,000 individuals are engaged in unlicensed gun dealing in the United States, and the rule will impact tens of thousands of gun sales per year, a White House official said.

Gun violence is common in the United States, a country where there are more firearms than people. Attempts to clamp down on gun rights are always met with stiff political resistance.

Harris said thousands of unlicensed dealers sell tens of thousands of guns a year without conducting background checks.

Among those who have been able to purchase firearms through the “gun show loophole” are domestic abusers and violent felons, she said.

The number of children killed by guns in the US hit a high in 2021, mass shootings have surged in recent years and the country overall has much higher rates of gun death than other wealthy nations.

“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,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

The Justice Department proposed the rule in August and invited the public to comment. It was submitted to the Federal Register on Tuesday and will be published soon, with the rule taking effect 30 days after its publication.

Although it will increase the number of background checks, the rule does not constitute a universal background check. Certain firearms transfers, including those among family members, will still be allowed without a background check.

US lawmakers passed a federal gun reform law in June 2022 following a string of mass shootings and days after a Supreme Court decision that expanded firearm owners’ rights.

In March 2023, President Joe Biden issued an executive order aimed at expanding background checks for gun purchases and asked Congress to take additional action to reduce gun violence.

A senior White House official said the Biden administration expects the move will be challenged in court by gun rights groups.

“All of the major actions that the president has taken to reduce gun violence have been challenged,” the official said. “And in court after court, the actions are frequently being upheld. “We have confidence that this is legal.”

There were more than 40,000 gun-related deaths in the United States last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

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