Fewer illegal firearms coming through the so-called "Iron Pipeline" to...

Fewer illegal firearms coming through the so-called "Iron Pipeline" to New York could be the result of a new federal rule expanding background checks to private gun purchases, according to officials and gun control advocates. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

A new federal rule to expand background checks to private firearm sales announced Thursday could slow the flood of illegal guns into New York on the “Iron Pipeline” from states with weaker gun laws, officials and gun control advocates said.

New York state already requires private-sale background checks but 90% of the guns used in crimes in New York do not show up as a registered transaction, making it likely they changed hands without a background check, a New York Attorney General analysis found.

'A game changer'

“This rule expands background checks and is really a game changer,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, a national coalition of mayors and other gun-control groups.

Opponents of gun control measures vowed to challenge the new rule.

“We'll see you in court @ATFHQ. Again,” the Gun Owners of America posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, using the tag for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms headquarters.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced the rule Thursday, emphasizing their support for laws limiting access to firearms in an appeal to gun-control supporters while calling on Congress to pass legislation to make the rule change law.

“I’ve spent hours with families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence. They all have the same message: ‘Do something,’” Biden said in a statement. “Today, my Administration is taking action to make sure fewer guns are sold without background checks.”

ATF authorization

The new rule authorizes the ATF to require anyone “engaged in the business” of selling guns at a profit to register as a federally licensed firearms dealer who must run background criminal and mental health checks on buyers.

The rule seeks to close the “gun-show loophole” that has allowed people to sell firearms at gun shows, flea markets, online and by mail order, with no license or without conducting background checks on purchasers. It is expected to go into effect in a month.

“Why this matters for New York is that many of the guns that end up in New York, of course, come from out of state — the so-called the Iron Pipeline — and many of the guns on the Iron Pipeline begin with an unlicensed dealer sale,” Suplina said.

Exempt from the licensing requirement are hobbyists selling firearms from their collection and people who sell firearms they inherited.

Largest expansion

It is the largest expansion of the background check system for gun buyers since Congress passed the Brady Act gun control bill in 1994.

The Justice Department said there are more than 80,000 licensed gun dealers in the United States, and estimated that more than 20,000, and as many as 80,000 unlicensed sellers operating through online advertisements, gun shows, and other means should get a license under the new rule.

The rule has spent two years in the rule-making process, where it drew more than 380,000 comments and Republican opposition. It codifies measures in the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that require more gun sellers to conduct background checks of buyers.

The sales transactions kept by licensed dealers help law enforcement officials who recover a gun used in a crime to trace it back the first retail purchaser, according to the ATF.

“Tightening up the procedures in other states is going to help New York,” said David Pucino, the legal director of the gun control group Giffords.

Weak out-of-state gun laws

“While New York has really strong gun laws, a lot of states do not. And a pattern we constantly see is guns being trafficked from the states with the poor gun laws into New York,” Pucino told Newsday.

Guns travel to New York on the Iron Pipeline, which largely goes through Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, according to the New York Attorney General’s report, “Target on Trafficking.”

Suplina added: “By bringing more gun transactions into the background check system, we are stopping guns from going into the hands of felons and domestic abusers and others that wouldn’t be able to pass a background check."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hailed the rule on X, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that “this initiative moves us closer to a long-sought goal: universal background checks.”

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