ATF Under Fire: 26 States Lock and Load Legal Action

BreizhAtao /
BreizhAtao /

This past Wednesday, 26 states made their move, filing lawsuits against none other than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). And what’s their bone to pick? Well, it’s none other than a new rule that, according to them, targets law-abiding gun owners—and tramples over constitutional rights like a bull charging through a delicate china shop.

The lawsuits, lodged in federal courts in Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, aim to halt the enforcement of a newly announced rule that seeks to close a loophole allowing tens of thousands of firearms to be sold annually by unlicensed dealers who skip background checks. According to the administration, these checks are crucial to ensure that potential buyers are not legally barred from owning guns.

The Biden administration finalized the contentious ATF rule on April 19, purportedly as part of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, championed by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). President Biden has been vocal in urging Congress to pass universal background check laws to regulate private firearms sales nationally—efforts that have been hampered under both Democratic and Republican leadership.

Historically, federal laws have differentiated between licensed firearms dealers and private individuals who are not required to register as dealers. The new rule, however, would compel thousands of private citizens to register as dealers if they wish to buy, sell, or trade firearms—a requirement that the coalition of Republican attorneys general deems unconstitutional and an unnecessary financial burden.

The new rule also mandates that firearm dealers conduct background checks at gun shows and other venues beyond traditional storefronts.

The lawsuits aim to halt the enforcement of a newly announced rule. The legal challenge asserts that this rule infringes on the Second Amendment rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution and contends that Democratic President Joe Biden lacks the authority to enforce it.

The lawsuits are spearheaded by Texas and Kansas, forming two major coalitions, while Florida has opted to file a separate suit. At a news conference in Frisco, Texas, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach outlined their opposition.

This marked Paxton’s first official state press conference since his historic impeachment last year; he was the first Texas attorney general to be impeached but was acquitted by the Senate.

The Texas-led lawsuit, which includes states like Louisiana, Missouri, and Utah, was filed in the Northern District of Texas’s Amarillo Division. Meanwhile, the Kansas-led lawsuit, which included states from Arkansas to Wyoming, was filed in the Eastern District of Arkansas’s Delta Division. Both suits include gun owners as plaintiffs.

Paxton described the administration’s actions as a tyrannical overreach, stating, “Yet again, Joe Biden is weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to rip up the Constitution and destroy our citizens’ Second Amendment rights.”

Kobach echoed this sentiment, stating that the regulation could unjustly criminalize Americans for transferring even a single firearm among family or friends.

Separately, Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody criticized the rule as an attempt by President Biden to disarm law-abiding Americans, framing the legal action as a defense against federal overreach and an infringement on Second Amendment rights. Moody said this was Biden’s “latest step in trying to take guns away from law-abiding Americans. We are fighting back.”

Florida’s complaint, lodged in the Middle District of Florida’s Tampa Division, argued that the ATF rule exceeded the legal mandates of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, effectively forcing gun owners into an unwarranted regulatory labyrinth.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin emphasized that Congress has never endorsed the ATF’s expansive new mandates for firearms dealer licenses, asserting that President Biden lacks the unilateral authority to enforce them. Griffin underscored that the lawsuit represents an ongoing endeavor by himself and fellow state attorneys general to underscore the President’s obligation to abide by legal frameworks. “This lawsuit is just the latest instance of my colleagues in other states and me having to remind the President that he must follow the law.”

All three lawsuits contest the legality of the ATF rule and seek a judicial injunction to prevent its implementation, targeting both the ATF and the Department of Justice, along with their respective leaders.