The landscape of firearm ownership in America may soon undergo a significant shift.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has proposed a new rule that could redefine what it means to be a gun dealer in the United States. This change, part of ATF2022R-17, aims to expand the current definition to include more individuals who engage in gun sales.
This rule, linked to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, has ignited a firestorm of debate, especially from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a group of state attorneys general.
The crux of the proposed rule lies in its broader interpretation of who qualifies as a gun dealer. Under the new definition, anyone involved in the sale of firearms and showing an intent to engage in such transactions regularly could be classified as a dealer. This expansion is not limited to monetary transactions but also includes those who profit in non-cash terms from the sale of guns.
The NRA has been vocal in its opposition to the proposed rule. The organization argues that this change could inadvertently criminalize ordinary Americans who are lawfully engaged in firearm transactions. Their concern is that the rule's broad scope could lead to confusion about what constitutes legal and illegal gun sales, especially among casual sellers or collectors.
More than 330,000 groups and individuals have voiced their opinions during the public comment period, highlighting the contentious nature of this proposal. Among these, competitive shooters and collectors have expressed particular concern, as their activities often involve frequently buying and selling firearms.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen and 25 other state attorneys general have also raised objections. They argue that the proposed rule infringes upon the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Their primary concern is that the rule could criminalize innocent family gun transfers, even when only minor profits are involved.
The opposition has not only been vocal but has also taken a legal stance. The NRA and the coalition of attorneys general claim that the rule violates the Second Amendment. This argument hinges on the belief that the proposed changes overstep federal authority and infringe upon the constitutional rights of gun owners.
Randy Kozuch, the Executive Director of the NRA-ILA, has been particularly outspoken. He criticizes what he sees as the federal government's overreach and its potential to unfairly target law-abiding gun owners.
"The Biden ATF's proposed rule, ATF2022R-17, is just another attempt to demolish our Second Amendment rights, with the potential to unjustly criminalize everyday Americans for engaging in lawful firearm transactions. This rule blatantly disregards the recent NRA-backed Bruen ruling on the Second Amendment. It also creates serious confusion among lawful gun owners who buy and sell firearms legally for various purposes, from collecting to self-defense."
The attorneys general, led by Montana's Austin Knudsen, have also been critical of the rule. They argue that it violates constitutional rights and poses practical issues. According to them, the rule could ensnare ordinary citizens in legal trouble for transactions that have traditionally been considered lawful and innocuous.
One of the specific concerns raised by the coalition of attorneys general is the impact of the rule on family gun transfers. They argue that the rule's provisions could potentially criminalize the act of selling a firearm to a family member, a practice that has long been a part of American gun culture.
The proposed rule does provide exceptions for such transfers, but the attorneys general contend that these are not sufficient. They believe that the exceptions are flawed and could still lead to legal issues for families engaging in what they view as routine and harmless transactions.
The NRA has applauded the efforts of these attorneys general. In their view, these legal officials are standing up against what they see as an unjustified intrusion by the federal government into the rights of gun owners.
As this debate continues, the future of ATF2022R-17 remains uncertain. What is clear, however, is the deep divide it has created among Americans, with passionate arguments on both sides of the issue.