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Judge Blocks New Background Check Rule For Gun Ownership in Texas Lawsuit

A federal judge said the new background check rule requires “that firearm owners prove innocence rather than the government prove guilt.”

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the feds from enforcing a rule requiring that most private sellers perform a background check before transferring a firearm.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed the case, said he was "relieved that we were able to secure a restraining order that will prevent this illegal rule from taking effect." However, the order only applies to some plaintiffs in the case — it excludes the states of Utah, Mississippi, and Louisiana — and it expires on June 2.

In the 14-page ruling, Judge Matthew J. Kacxmaryk, a 2019 Trump appointee, argued that the rule redefining "engaged in the business" of selling firearms "likely" violates administrative law. He also said the rule makes presumptions that require firearm owners to "prove innocence rather than the government prove guilt."

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What Supporters and Critics Say About the New Background Check Rule

When the Justice Department published the rule in April, officials argued that it closes "one of the biggest gaps in the federal background check system: the so-called 'gun show loophole.'" While the term originally meant gun sales at gun shows, some use it to refer to most or all private gun sales.

With the rule, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expanded "engaged in the business" of selling firearms to mean a person who "predominantly earn(s) a profit" from gun sales. In turn, it would force private sellers to either quit or become licensed dealers, who federal law requires to conduct a background check before transferring a firearm. Officials argued the change would help law enforcement disrupt black market sales.

The ATF drafted the rule following the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, a law Congress wrote because of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. The ATF subjected the rule to a 90-day public commenting period, where it garnered nearly 400,000 comments.

Although industry trade groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation initially supported the idea, they now criticize the rule. They argue that the ATF does not have authority to write it. Critics also argue that the rule imposes a universal background checks system, which Congress has repeatedly rejected.

In addition to the Texas case, 23 other states filed two lawsuits challenging the rule. The Kansas attorney general's office led the second case, arguing the new rule turns "innocent sales" into felonious acts. Florida's attorney general filed the other case, adding the rule "reflects a lack of respect for our Second Amendment rights."