US judge blocks Biden-backed rule expanding gun background checks

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By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Sunday blocked the Biden administration from fully implementing a new rule that would require gun dealers to obtain licenses and conduct background checks when selling firearms at gun shows and online.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo temporarily restrained the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ rule from being enforced in Republican-led Texas or against members of several gun rights groups.

“I am relieved that we were able to secure a restraining order that will prevent this illegal rule from taking effect,” Texas Attorney General Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the rule in court, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kacsmaryk, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, issued his ruling ahead of the rule taking effect on Monday in response to a lawsuit by Texas, gun rights advocates, and three other Republican-led states.

The lawsuit challenged a rule finalized last month that Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration said would affect more than 23,000 unlicensed dealers and tens of thousands of gun sales annually by closing the “gun show loophole.”

Under the rule, those selling weapons at gun shows, other venues and over the internet are subject to the same requirements as gun stores to check the backgrounds of potential buyers.

Kacsmaryk in his ruling agreed with the plaintiffs that the rule’s provisions contradicted the text of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a 2022 law that broadened the category of gun sellers required to obtain licenses.

He faulted the rule for not allowing people who buy or sell firearms for personal protection from being considered eligible for a statutory exemption to the licensing requirement for people who buy or sell guns for a “personal collection.”

Kacsmaryk said that resulted in “the absurdity that the statute’s safe harbor provision provides no safe harbor at all for the majority of gun owners.”

Gun rights groups whose members are covered by Kacsmaryk’s order include the Gun Owners of America, which boasts 2 million members.

The judge, though, found Louisiana, Mississippi, and Utah failed to establish they had standing to challenge the rule and he declined to block its enforcement in their jurisdictions. His order remains in effect until June 2 pending further litigation.

Kacsmaryk is the lone active judge in Amarillo, helping make his courthouse a favored venue for conservative litigants challenging federal government policies during Biden’s administration.

He has ruled frequently in their favor, most prominently last year when Kacsmaryk suspended approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the pill to remain on the market while it considers the case.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Christopher Cushing)

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