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Migrants subject to US federal gun regulations

Migrants subject to US federal gun regulations - Featured image

Author(s): AFP USA

Immigration enforcement is a hot-button issue in the 2024 presidential race, with social media posts sharing claims of a new regulation allowing migrants to purchase firearms in the US. But the supposed policy, said to have come from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), never existed, and the agency lacks the authority to update or change federal gun laws.

“Women (sic) claims her Husband who owns a gun shop & states the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms have updated their policy & effective from today, they give an exemption to illegal immigrants allowing them to purchase firearms. Good Luck Americans,” says a February 26, 2024 post on X shared and liked thousands of times.

A screenshot of an X post taken on February 29, 2024 – Manon JACOB

In the clip attached to the post, a woman is heard saying: “ATF has made updates to their background check policy and effective today, they give an exemption to illegal immigrants to be able to purchase firearms,” adding that the purported rule coincides with some US states allowing “illegals” to become police officers — a claim previously debunked by AFP.

The same video circulated on X in December and spread elsewhere on various platforms, as a spike in illegal border crossings has made migration a key talking point in the US presidential election campaign, with Republicans including presumed nominee Donald Trump seeking to pin blame for the record-high numbers entirely on Democratic President Joe Biden.

But the claims are false. No such policy exists, as confirmed by the ATF and a legal expert.

“It is unlawful for any person who is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States to purchase or possess a firearm,” the chief of public affairs at ATF,  Kristina Mastropasqua, told AFP on February 28.

The federal Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act determine the framework under which a person can or cannot own, purchase and sell firearms in the US (archived here and here).

“ATF does not make or change the laws, that role is reserved for Congress,” Mastropasqua added.

Non-citizens owning guns

Case Western Reserve University law professor Atiba Ellis said: “The law is clear that persons in the US without permission cannot own firearms. Nothing in the recent changes by Congress eliminates that basic rule.”

US law does allow for some non-US citizens who are legally in the country to purchase firearms under specific conditions and if they qualify for a gun license (archived here).

This can include green card holders, legal visitors who are in the country for lawful hunting or sporting activities, and other non-citizens who live in the US with permission, such as diplomats and other authorized governmental officials, Ellis explained.

“Law enforcement officials from governments friendly to the United States may transport their weapons while here. This is a limited set of exceptions, and nothing in the recent amendments to the law changes these exceptions,” he told AFP on February 28.

AFP did not find any credible media reports of a new ATF policy for illegal immigrants. A keyword search in the agency’s press release archives also did not yield any pertinent results on the matter (archived here).

Background checks

Federally licensed firearm dealers are required to conduct background checks on potential buyers (archived here). This is meant to identify and restrict sales to groups prohibited from owning guns, including convicted felons and individuals under federal domestic restraining orders.

Advocates say a major loophole in the law is that the requirement does not apply to unlicensed sellers, which account for nearly one fourth of all gun sales (archived here).

The Background Checks Expansion Act of 2023 was introduced in both the Senate and the House (archived here and here), but no recent changes have been signed into law.

AFP has debunked other false claims about immigration here.

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Originally published here.