ATF’s Redefinition Of ‘Gun Dealer’ Sparks Controversy And Legal Challenges

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) under the Biden administration has unilaterally enacted a new final rule that significantly expands the definition of a “gun dealer.” This move has raised concerns among gun rights advocates who argue that it could potentially turn law-abiding citizens into criminals for exercising their Second Amendment rights.

The new rule is based on existing laws that require those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL). But the exact definition of this term has been ambiguous since the 1930s, leading to confusion about how many gun sales constitute engaging in the business.

Previously the definition required a person to be engaged in sales for “livelihood and profit” and to be involved in “a course of trade or business” that included “repetitive” buying and reselling. The ATF’s new rule removes the “livelihood” aspect, focusing solely on profit and significantly broadening the scope of who must register as an FFL.

“ATF has no authority to ‘improve’ on what Congress enacted or to create new crimes not enacted by Congress” said Mark Oliva public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “An agency may not re-write statutory terms or fill in what the agency considers to be ‘gaps’ or ‘loopholes’ in the statute.”

Under the new rule even selling a single firearm that is still in its original packaging could be construed as engaging in the business and making a profit. Violations of the rule are considered a felony.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) warned that this change has the potential “to turn untold thousands of upstanding citizens into criminals for exercising their constitutional rights.”

The ATF’s decision comes from a 2022 bill that gun rights advocates argue opened the door for Democrats to impose new restrictions on lawful gun owners. The rule is set to take effect within 30 days of its announcement but legal challenges are already being discussed.

Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation predicted that the new regulations will face immediate scrutiny in federal courts. “The president is claiming this will keep guns out of the hands of felons and he knows better” Gottlieb said. “If history has taught us anything it would be that criminals do not obtain the guns they use through legitimate channels and that gun control laws have never prevented criminals from obtaining a firearm.”