The President’s Executive Actions Explained: What they Mean for PA

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President Obama’s Executive Action Package

On Tuesday January 5, President Obama announced a significant package of Executive Actions to fight gun violence. The White House has released a fact sheet on the Executive Action package that outlines the main points of the package.  All of these are critical efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them and fight illegal gun trafficking.

We wanted to focus on one particular action and how it will affect what happens in Pennsylvania.  The President is refining the definition of “engaged in the business” of dealing guns.  This is important because a seller who is deemed to be “engaged in the business” must get licensed as a federal firearms dealer, will be regulated by ATF and will be required to perform background checks for all guns sales.  A seller who is only an occasional seller will be considered a private seller and is not required to be licensed.  The regulation of sales by private sellers is left to the states.

Prior to the President’s new Executive Action, the definition of “engaged in the business” was vague and enabled some private sellers who were for all practical purposes in the gun selling business to avoid becoming licensed as federal firearms dealers.  But as a result of the President’s action a new guidance issued by ATF makes clear that ATF will look at the facts and circumstances of someone’s business practices to determine whether they are required to be licensed as federal firearms dealers. It is not simply a question of volume or whether you sell from a brick and mortar store, but rather an analysis of whether you are engaged in a profit enterprise stemming from the buying and selling of firearms.  A good resource further explaining the “engaged in the business” issue can be found here.

How does this affect the “gun show loophole?”

First of all, in PA, we don’t actually have a gun show loophole.  Instead, we have a private seller loophole.  Private sellers in PA (those not required to be licensed as federal firearms dealers) must perform background checks when they sell handguns.  However, those same sellers are exempt from performing background checks when they sell long guns (rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles).  It’s not where the sale occurs, but who is selling and what kind of gun.

So as far as gun shows go, while some folks who only sell at gun shows may now be brought into the regulatory framework that applies to licensed dealers, there will be others who are truly occasional sellers who will sell at gun shows but will still be deemed private sellers. In PA, such private sellers can still sell long guns (rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles) without conducting a background check.  In other states, such private sellers may also be able to sell handguns without a background check.

It is not clear how many of those private sellers in PA will now be deemed to be “engaged  the business” of selling guns such that their sales will be subject to background checks.  That means it will still be possible to buy a long gun in PA in a private sale without a background check.

In short, the President did not close the gun show loophole, or the Internet loophole or the private seller loophole.  A great explanation of how Internet sales work, and how there are some that are subject to regulation and background checks, while others are not, can be found here.

So, How Do We Fully Close those Loopholes

The President did not create a system of universal background checks for all gun sales. That will require legislative action – either by Congress to affect the entire nation, or by our state legislature in Harrisburg to govern sales in Pennsylvania.  In fact, bills are pending in the PA House (HB 1010) and Senate (SB 1049) to close the private seller loophole and treat the private sale of long guns just like the private sale of handguns in PA.

While the President took important steps this week, we still have critical work to do here in PA to ensure that all gun sales (except for those between close family members) are subject to a background check.

What Can You Do?

While we hope the President’s actions will inspire our Governor, state legislators and congressional delegation to take further steps to keep us safe, the first step to enacting commonsense background check expansion like HB 1010 and SB 1049 is up to us.  Please visit, call or email your legislators to let them know you care about keeping Pennsylvania safe and that gun violence prevention measures like closing the loophole that allows private sales of long guns without a background check is important to you.

If you need help on how to do this, contact us at info@ceasefirepa.org or call 215-923-3151.

The President has sparked energy and action, but it’s up to us to continue the work.

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