The Scaremongering Over "Unlicensed Dealers"

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Up until President Joe Biden started talking about unlicensed dealers while announcing his efforts to reduce the violent crime surge plaguing our nation, most people had never heard the term. Now, it seems that tons of overnight experts have stepped up to try and discuss just how awful these unlicensed dealers are.

It’s downright terrifying, to hear these people talk.

In fact, did you know that unlicensed dealers could put entire communities at risk?

Last year was a record year for the firearms industry, which should come as no surprise given the global pandemic, economic recession and general political unease. In America at large, but especially here in Oklahoma, we don’t like to leave the safety of our communities and loved ones up to chance, and as a result the desire to utilize our constitutional right to keep and bear arms is only natural. However, the idea that unlicensed stranger to stranger firearm sales may have also increased last year, is worrisome.

Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF), a consulting firm that specializes in analyzing data related to gun sales, estimates that 22.8 million guns were sold over the course of 2020. SAAF’s estimates are based on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and adjusted based on retailer reports. Given the fact that these numbers are based on background checks, the estimates understate the true number of sales as they fail to fully account for unlicensed dealers who aren’t required to conduct background checks.

However, unlicensed dealers, unlike their licensed counterparts, are not legally required to conduct background checks. This means that strangers can buy firearms from other strangers without having to answer a number of important questions regarding their criminal history and mental health background. This problem is worsened by websites like ARMSLIST, which provides unlicensed dealers a platform to sell firearms, and bad actors an easily accessible marketplace where questions they don’t want to answer won’t be asked.

Except, what the author is calling an unlicensed dealer is really just someone who is selling some of their personal guns.

See, according to the ATF, a dealer is defined as, “any person who engages in the business of dealing in firearms,” and those must be licensed. Yet that requires a separate definition:

What does it mean to be “engaged in the business of dealing infirearms”?

Under federal law, a person engaged in the business of dealing in firearms is a person who “devotes time, attention and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the
repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”

Under federal law, conducting business “with the principal objective of livelihood and profit” means that “the intent underlying the sale or disposition of firearms is predominantly one of obtaining livelihood and pecuniary gain, as opposed to other
intents, such as improving or liquidating a personal firearms collection.”

Consistent with this approach, federal law explicitly exempts persons “who make occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”

In other words, this explicitly applies only to a handful of people, those who are trying to earn a profit on the buying and selling of firearms but who don’t bother to get a license.

Yet so many would have you believe that we’re plagued with unlicensed dealers using otherwise lawful channels to seek out customers. The problem is that there’s really no evidence of that. Private individuals use websites to sell guns all the time, including liquidating private collections for whatever reason. This is explicitly allowed by the ATF, and since many of these sales cross state lines, they’re also required to go through a licensed gun dealer.

To be sure, there are actual unlicensed dealers, but they’re not putting guns up on ARMSLIST.

I’m talking about the black-market dealers that routinely sell guns to criminals, usually stolen firearms or guns obtained through other illicit means. Those dealers are conducting business through word of mouth to try and avoid law enforcement because this has always been illegal.

Yet there’s precious little the federal government can or will do about these actual unlicensed dealers. There’s also little the scaremongers will do about them, either.

Instead, they’ll push for universal background checks, which they think will blunt the so-called unlicensed dealers’ impact, never realizing that the real problem has never been addressed.