Florida sues federal agencies over new firearms dealer definition

by | May 1, 2024

Florida filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Justice on Wednesday, challenging a new rule that broadly redefines who is considered a firearms dealer, claiming it exceeds regulatory authority.

The State of Florida filed a federal lawsuit against a pair of federal agencies and the Biden administration on Wednesday, challenging a new rule that redefines who is considered a firearms dealer under federal law.

The lawsuit, filed against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), contends that a new ATF rule unjustifiably broadens the scope of who must register as a federal firearms dealer, a move that the state argues exceeds the agency’s regulatory authority and infringes on constitutional protections under the Second Amendment.

According to the complaint, the rule finalized by the ATF on April 19, 2024, purports to implement the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) passed in 2022. However, Florida contends that the rule goes beyond the act’s intent to clarify the definition of being “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, which traditionally required a federal license.

The ATF rule modifies the criteria under which a person is considered a firearms dealer. Traditionally, this was limited to those who make repetitive purchases and resales of firearms as a regular part of their business to earn a profit but the new rule suggests that even a single transaction, when combined with other evidence, could classify a person as a dealer.

“The challenged rule, in fact, goes far beyond the plain text of the BSCA,” the complaint reads, alleging that the rule forces thousands of law-abiding gun owners to navigate federal bureaucracy as a precondition to engaging in constitutionally protected activities, such as selling firearms.

The rule introduces specific presumptions that would automatically categorize a person as engaged in the business of dealing in firearms. For example, if a person resells or offers to resell firearms and shows a willingness and ability to purchase and resell additional firearms, they might be presumed to be a dealer.

Previously, the law required that the person’s primary motivation for selling firearms must be to earn a profit. The new rule emphasizes that engaging in sales predominantly for profit, regardless of whether it constitutes the person’s principal livelihood, can trigger the need for a federal license. According to the ATF, these changes aim to eliminate grey areas in existing laws by clearly defining who should be considered a dealer.

The state argues that the ATF does not possess the broad rulemaking authority required to enact such sweeping changes. The complaint cites the Administrative Procedure Act, claiming the rule is “arbitrary, capricious, … or otherwise not in accordance with law,” and exceeds the ATF’s statutory jurisdiction.

The legal challenge also notes that while the BSCA was supported by a bipartisan vote and was not intended as a major overhaul of federal firearms regulations, the new rule reflects a significant policy shift towards universal background checks—a measure President Joe Biden has supported but Congress has not approved.

“This is Biden’s latest step in trying to take guns away from law-abiding Americans,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. “We are fighting back against this federal overreach that would force thousands of law-abiding gun owners to register as federal firearms dealers and navigate a federal bureaucracy. It’s unlawful and reflects a lack of respect for our second amendment rights. We won’t stand for it.”

The suit seeks to have the court declare the rule unlawful and set it aside. If that is not granted, Florida requests a permanent injunction to prevent the rule’s enforcement within the state.


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