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Should the U.S. government decide who qualifies as a gun dealer?


A new Biden administration rule expanding background checks for potential gun buyers will soon take effect. Michigan and Maine recently expanded background checks, but who exactly counts as a gun seller? Michigan Public's Rick Pluta reports. And a warning - this story contains the sound of gunshots.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: In Michigan, fatal mass shootings at Oxford High School in 2021, and on the campus of Michigan State University last year, put momentum behind new gun restrictions.


GRETCHEN WHITMER: We don't have to live like this, and today, we are showing we are not going to anymore.




PLUTA: Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of gun control laws last year. One of them expands background checks for many firearm purchases. Michigan is one of more than 20 states with background check requirements that extend to unlicensed gun sellers. The Biden administration recently made that a nationwide requirement. Stefanie Feldman is director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. She says a patchwork of state-level gun rules doesn't make sense.

STEFANIE FELDMAN: Because we know that guns can cross state lines, so what this does is it expands the universe of people who are required to run background checks before selling firearms.

PLUTA: The federal rules are also supposed to close what's often called the gun show loophole. The rules essentially say a business that would require a federal gun seller's license in a brick-and-mortar setting would also have to get a license to sell firearms at gun shows, flea markets, online, even the trunk of a car. April Zeoli is director of the Institute for Firearm Safety Protection at the University of Michigan. She says closing the gun show exception for background checks should also reduce the number of clandestine sales.

APRIL ZEOLI: Because it's harder to buy guns from the legal market and move them to the black market. The people who are moving guns to the black market are often already prohibited from having them, or they want to buy in such numbers that red flags are raised.

PLUTA: But gun rights advocates say these state and federal policies cross the line.


PLUTA: Rick Ector is a firearms instructor from Detroit, who sits on the board of the National Rifle Association.

RICK ECTOR: Another day at the gun range (laughter).

PLUTA: Ector says the government should not be in the business of deciding who does or doesn't qualify as a gun dealer.

ECTOR: Say, for example, you have a comic book collection, you have a stamp collection. That doesn't necessarily make you in the business of selling that particular item. It's not an ongoing business.

PLUTA: The federal law says a dealer is someone who sells guns predominantly for a profit. A lot of people say that's a murky standard.

MALLORY MCMORROW: We need very clear definitions on when somebody becomes a firearms dealer.

PLUTA: Michigan Democratic state Senator Mallory McMorrow is one of the sponsors of the state's new gun law. She says a lot of gun sellers are flying under the radar.

MCMORROW: They have a personal collection they're selling. They might be selling on Facebook Marketplace; they might be selling person to person. They have a large enough stockpile that legally, they should be registering as a firearms dealer, and they aren't.

PLUTA: The fight may continue. Gun rights advocates have challenged many of the White House's gun control policies in court, and similar challenges are expected with this latest one.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.