© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas and Texas attorneys general sue to keep a 'gun show loophole' for background checks

 Kris Kobach speaking to reporters
Blaise Mesa
Kansas News Service
Kobach filed the lawsuit Friday.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco over a federal rule closing the gun show loophole.

Just days before the first anniversary of a mass shooting in Allen, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has weighed in on a gun control issue — opposing efforts by the Biden Administration to close what’s known as the “gun show loophole.”

Paxton and Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announced on Wednesday that they are suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at a press conference at the Frisco Gun Club.

“We will not let Biden continue this tyrannical abuse of power,” he said. “His war on Second Amendment rights must be stopped.”

The facility is less than a half an hour from the Allen Premium Outlets, where a gunman killed eight people before he was fatally shot last year.

Alissa Wallace, an Allen resident and president of the Collin County Moms Demand Action chapter, has told KERA News that legislators need to listen to the calls for gun reforms.

“We need our lawmakers to realize that human beings, and people, Texans, their constituents are being gunned down,” Wallace said. “And we need that to get through to them so that they can step up and actually take meaningful actions.”

Paxton and Kobach want to block a new rule that will require all gun sellers to be federally licensed and conduct federal background checks on purchasers, including weapons sold at gun shows or in private transactions. The U.S. Department of Justice announced last month that this change applies to all firearm sellers — not just gun store owners.

Mauricio Garcia, the Allen gunman, reportedly purchased most of the guns he used to kill his victims legally through private sales that didn’t require a background check. Under the new rule – which was not in force at the time he made the purchases — he would have had to have undergone a background check.

Garcia had Nazi tattoos and signed his name with what appears to be the “SS” symbol in his application for a security officer license with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Private Security Bureau in 2015. The Pentagon confirmed to NPR after the shooting that Garcia was discharged from the U.S. Army in 2008 for mental health reasons. But another defense official told the Associated Press that Garcia received an “uncharacterized” discharge, which wouldn’t have shown up on a background check.

Paxton said the rule is federal overreach and an attempt by the Biden administration to circumvent Congress. He said the regulation violates the constitution.

“ATF does not have the right to issue these regulations,” Paxton said.

He said the suit is focused on the constitutional issue, not federal background checks.

The change, which is set to go into effect May 20, is a follow-up to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was enacted in June 2022. The Act broadened the definition of gun dealer to include people “who devote time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms.” Biden issued an executive order last March asking the Department of Justice to close background check loopholes.

Steven Dettelbach, the director of ATF, said in a release that the rule will also require all firearms dealers to have a federal license to sell guns in addition to conducting background checks on purchasers. Licensed gun sellers keep records of sales, which helps trace guns used in crimes, including mass shootings.

“We can clearly see that a whole group of folks are openly flouting that law,” Dettelbach said. “That leads to not just unfair but, in this case, dangerous consequences.”

Texas legislators have loosened gun restrictions. The state passed its constitutional carry law in 2021. The law allows some firearm owners in the state to openly carry a handgun in public without a license. A bill that would’ve raised the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles in Texas from 18 to 21 failed to pass during the last legislative session after missing a key deadline.

Polls suggest gun reforms have bipartisan support in Texas. About 73% of Texans support raising the age to purchase any firearm – not just semi-automatic rifles – from 18 to 21, according to a recent survey from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. The survey found that 90% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans support raising the age to purchase firearms.

Shannon Flores, a Texas gun owner and senior coalition manager at the Giffords Law Center, said most gun owners support gun reforms, including background checks.

“The idea that these policies are an infringement on the Second Amendment rights is a falsehood, and the majority of gun owners know this,” Flores said.

She said Texas legislators are beholden to the gun lobby. Governor Greg Abbott’s campaign has received $11,000 from the National Rifle Association according to campaign finance data from follow the money. Paxton received $6,000. Kobach received $7,000.

Both Paxton and Kobach filed separate federal lawsuits. Louisiana, Mississippi and Utah are also plaintiffs. Both states are asking for a preliminary injunction.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at  clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For AmericaCorps member for KERA News.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Caroline Love
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.