Attorney General James Takes Action to Stop Illegal Gun Trafficking

AG James Leads Coalition of 21 Attorneys General Backing ATF Rule to Limit Unlicensed Gun Sales

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell led a multistate coalition of 21 attorneys general today in support of a proposed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) rule that would ensure more gun sales are subject to background checks and reduce illegal gun trafficking. Following the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the ATF proposed a new regulation to clarify what it means for a person to be “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms, and therefore required to obtain a license and run background checks when selling guns. The proposed rule would close loopholes that allowed the unlicensed sale of firearms, including online and at gun shows. The coalition of attorneys general submitted a letter of support for the proposed rule and recommended areas of enforcement to limit gun trafficking.  

“Gun traffickers and criminals have exploited loopholes in our laws to illegally obtain firearms and flood communities in states like New York with deadly weapons,” said Attorney General James. “The ATF’s rule is a commonsense way to address this problem, and will help ensure more firearm sales are subject to background checks, thereby cutting off sources of weapons for gun traffickers. I’m proud to lead my fellow attorneys general in support of this new effort to fight gun violence and keep our communities safe.”  

Unlicensed gun sales make it easier for people who cannot legally purchase firearms to obtain them, endangering communities and fueling gun violence. Gun shows in states without universal background checks are a significant venue for unlicensed gun vendors and are a major source for guns trafficked into states like New York. A recent ATF report revealed that the number of guns later used in crimes that originated from gun shows increased by 19 percent from 2017 to 2021. Roughly 75 percent of the guns trafficked across state lines that were used in crimes originated from states without background check laws. In New York City alone, over 90 percent of the guns recovered from crimes originated from out of state. 

The ATF’s proposed rule will crack down on unlicensed gun sellers and reduce the number of guns sold without a background check by ensuring more individuals who sell guns are subject to federal licensing and background check requirements. Vendors operating at gun shows and online would be subject to the regulation in more instances, reducing opportunities for gun sales without background checks. The new regulations will also help local and state law enforcement officials track gun sales and provide them with more tools to effectively inspect gun dealers, trace guns used in crimes, prosecute gun charges, and help keep the communities they serve safe.

Attorney General James and the coalition also recommend specific areas for ATF to focus enforcement on. Noting that online gun sellers and those liquidating the inventories of licensed gun sellers are common sources of guns used in crimes, the coalition urges ATF to hold those illegally selling firearms accountable instead of encouraging them to become licensed gun dealers. 

Joining Attorney General James in support of the ATF’s proposed rule are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.  

This multistate letter is the latest action Attorney General James has taken to fight gun trafficking and keep New Yorkers safe from gun violence. In November, Attorney General James and a coalition of 19 attorneys general filed an amicus brief in support of a California law restricting high-capacity gun magazines. Also in November, Attorney General James successfully argued against Second Amendment challenges in six cases in the New York State Court of Appeals involving gun possession charges. In August, Attorney General James joined a multistate coalition of attorneys general urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to uphold a Delaware ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Also in August, Attorney General James urged the Supreme Court to uphold the federal law barring domestic abusers from obtaining guns. 

In May, Attorney General James sued a gun accessory manufacturer that aided the Buffalo mass shooter. In April, Attorney General James took action to remove more than 3,000 guns off New York’s streets in a single day through the first-ever statewide gun buyback program. In March, Attorney General James and the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force took down a firearm and drug trafficking operation that illegally sold guns, including ghost guns and assault weapons, in New York City. The takedown recovered 19 firearms, including 12 ghost guns. Also in March, Attorney General James secured a court order banning 10 gun distributors from selling and shipping ghost gun parts into New York. In December 2022, Attorney General James joined a coalition of 23 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting federal efforts to ban the possession of firearms whose serial numbers have been removed. In June 2022, Attorney General James sued 10 national gun distributors for bringing ghost gun parts into New York.