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Texas, other states sue Biden administration over pri­vate firearm sale rules

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, alongside Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and Gun Owners of America Texas director Wes Virdell, held a press conference on Wednesday morning announcing the filing of two lawsuits against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regarding new rules about private firearm sales.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced new rules adding definitions of certain terms under the Safer Communities Act that will expand the circumstances requiring individuals to obtain Federal Firearm Licenses (FFL) and perform background checks to sell guns. This is to close the so-called “gun show loophole,” which has been a priority for the Biden administration.

“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 said in a statement announcing the rule. “This regulation is a historic step in the Justice Department’s fight against gun violence. It will save lives.”

Texas’ lawsuit was filed on the morning of May 1, 2024 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division. It was filed by Texas with the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Utah; Jeff Tormey; Gun Owners of America; Gun Owners Foundation; Tennessee Firearms Association; and the Virginia Citizens Defense League also listed as plaintiffs.

Kansas’ lawsuit was filed on the morning of May 1, 2024 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Delta Division. It was filed by Kansas alongside the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, with Phillip Journey, Allen Black, Donald Maxey, and the Chisholm Trail Antique Gun Association also listed as plaintiffs.

Both lawsuits seek declaratory and injunctive relief.

“Today, Texas is leading a multi-state coalition that is suing to stop the final rule issued by the ATF that criminalizes private firearm sales. Biden's latest effort to unilaterally curtail our constitutional rights is completely illegal," said Paxton in his speech.

“Yet again, Joe Biden is weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to rip up the Constitution and destroy our citizens’ Second Amendment rights. This is a dramatic escalation of his tyrannical abuse of authority. With today’s lawsuit, it is my great honor to defend our Constitutionally-protected freedoms from the out-of-control federal government.”

Kobach also spoke at the announcement of the lawsuits.

“Biden’s latest attempt to strip away the Second Amendment rights of Americans through ATF regulations will make many law-abiding gun owners felons if they sell a firearm or two to family or friends. This rule is blatantly unconstitutional. We are suing to defend the Second Amendment rights of all Americans,” said Kobach.

“Until now, those who repetitively purchased and sold firearms as a regular course of business had to become a licensee… This rule would put innocent firearm sales between law-abiding friends and family members within reach of federal regulation,” the Kansas court filing reads. “Such innocent sales between friends and family would constitute a felony if the seller did not in fact obtain a federal firearms license and perform a background check.”

While not at the announcement, the attorneys general of Utah and Mississippi both offered statements in the lawsuit’s press release.

“Nearly 40 years ago, Congress condemned ATF for targeting innocent gun owners instead of focusing on felons, calling ATF's actions 'reprehensible.' Congress even changed the law to limit ATF's authority. But ATF is at it again, this time trying to require a citizen selling even a single firearm to obtain a license. Utah is proud to join the 26 states — in three separate lawsuits—  protecting their citizens from this bureaucratic overreach.” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

“By seeking to treat every legal gunowner as a commercial gun dealer and every gun sale or trade into a commercial transaction, this rule unmasks the Biden Administration’s anti-gun agenda in ways many of its other actions have not. The Second Amendment could never have contemplated this kind of regulation and it will not withstand scrutiny in the courts.  On behalf of Mississippi gunowners, we are proud to stand with the citizens who have come forward in this lawsuit,” said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch.

Twenty-five states are suing the ATF across both lawsuits. Florida has also filed its own suit against the ATF for declaratory and injunctive relief about the same rule.

This is not the first lawsuit that Paxton has filed against the ATF this year. In February, the State of Texas sued the ATF over the Biden administration’s recent decision to redefine firearms with pistol braces as short-barrelled rifles under the National Firearms Act (NFA).

Virdell won the Republican nomination for Texas House District 53 in March and is expected to assume the seat in the heavily red district.

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