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Biden-Harris DOJ Rule Tightens Gun Sale Background Checks

Biden-Harris rule expands background checks, targets gun violence loopholes, and prompts further advocacy for reform.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks announcing the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention on Sept. 22, 2023, in the White House Rose Garden. (Photo courtesy of Adam Schultz/ Flickr)

In their latest stride in the fight toward universal background checks, the Biden-Harris administration announced a Department of Justice (DOJ) rule that will largely reduce the number of firearms sold without background checks. 

The final rule accelerates the implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that President Biden signed into law in 2022, marking the most expansive initiative spearheaded by the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention under the leadership of Vice President Kamala Harris.

One in five Americans have lost a family member to gun violence and it is the leading cause of death for American children. Moreover, since the Columbine school mass shooting in 1999, over 338,000 students in the U.S. have experienced gun violence at school according to Sandy Hook Promise.

“In the memory of all those we have lost, today, as the head of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, I am proud to announce that all gun dealers now must conduct background checks no matter where or how they sell their merchandise,” Harris said during a White House press briefing on gun violence prevention.

Myles Hollingsworth, a sophomore political science major at Howard University from Long Island, New York, started to advocate for gun violence prevention after his parents became survivors of the Las Vegas Route 91 mass shooting in October 2017. The shooting claimed the lives of 59 victims, as reported by ABC News.

“I knew that I had to turn this anger, frustration [and] anxiety into action, policy and strategic organizing,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth is a newly elected board member of Youth Over Guns, a BIPOC-led organization dedicated to uplifting policy and protest initiatives in gun violence prevention. His responsibilities include researching and tracking gun violence prevention legislation and initiatives.

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“I want to emphasize the positive impact that closing the gun show loophole and expanding background checks will have on creating safer environments for young people to thrive and pursue their aspirations without fear of violence,” Hollingsworth said. 

Before the rule, loopholes in the federal background check system allowed people who could not pass a background check to evade the system by seeking out and purchasing firearms from unlicensed sellers. 

According to the Biden-Harris administration, this rule is the largest background check expansion since the Brady Bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It seeks to establish when a seller must become a licensed dealer, conduct background checks and give the DOJ additional tools to penalize the illegal selling of guns. 

“Every person in our nation has a right to live free from the horror of gun violence,” Harris said.

Provisions of the rule include clarification that even a single firearm transaction may be enough to require licensing and a specific list of commercial activities that constitute a licensing requirement. It also closed loopholes that previously allowed evasion of background checks, including gun show and online sale loopholes.

Hollingsworth shared the components of the rule that he believes will largely impact communities most vulnerable to gun violence. First, the rule will reduce the flow of the illegal gun, or the “iron pipeline” from the South upwards toward the upper Northeast corridor of the U.S.

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“That pipeline of guns being trafficked to those states is increasingly responsible for a lot of the mass shootings that we see,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth also believes that the rule will stop firearm manufacturers from selling “ghost guns,” which are unserialized and privately manufactured firearms that are increasingly found at crime scenes, and close fatal background check loopholes.

“The people who are never supposed to have guns [such as] kids, convicted felons [and] those with domestic violence charges all are now going to be further prevented from accessing guns and using them to cause harm,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth also discussed the disproportionate impact of gun violence on young Black and brown individuals, which he believes is the reason young people especially should be advocating for further gun violence prevention legislation and policy.

“It is important to center the conversation in terms of action at HBCUs like Howard so that we know that the population mostly affected by this [gun violence] epidemic is not only studying and understanding the problem but also taking that same action and understanding into the booth with us every November,” he continued. 

According to Amnesty International, up to 71 percent of global homicides involve firearms, and such incidents cause injuries that leave a lasting impact on mental and physical health. 

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As gun violence continues to impact nations around the world, international stakeholders such as families of victims, advocates, experts and students alike are trying to identify what measures can best help reduce gun-involved incidents. 

“I believe that the expansion of background checks is a tangible way to ensure that people who are handling weapons are getting them legally,” Ssanyu Lukoma, a freshman broadcast journalism major at Howard University from Sayreville, New Jersey, said. 

“Gun violence prevention is an important issue to consider when voting because, although guns are neutral, the danger lies with the person wielding the gun, which is why background checks are central,” Lukoma said.

Although they applauded the Biden-Harris administration’s steps toward stopping the illegal flow of guns, Hollingsworth and Lukoma believe there is more work to be done and hope to see additional initiatives in common sense gun policy and the full assault weapons ban the administration promised to deliver.  

“As we fight to keep our communities safe, President Joe Biden and I will continue to call on the United States Congress to have the courage to pass universal background checks, red-flag laws, and an assault weapons ban,” Harris said.

Copy edited by Alana Mathew

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