December 14, 2020

While President Trump’s legal challenges to the election results continue, it becomes more apparent every day that on January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.  What does a Biden administration mean for the firearms industry?

Biden’s team released an extensive plan to “End Gun Violence.”  Major components of the Biden plan that would have the greatest effect on the firearms industry include:

  • Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).  The PLCAA protects federally licensed manufacturers and sellers of firearms and ammunition from qualified civil liability actions, seeking to hold them liable for damages and other relief resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearms and ammunition by third parties.  Repealing the PLCAA would simply serve as a basis for municipalities and public interest groups to file frivolous lawsuits seeking to blame the firearms industry for crime in general and seek to use the courts to impose gun control that the legislatures wisely refuse to enact.
  • Reinstating an “assault weapons ban.”  Biden wants to reenact the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 but prevent manufacturers from making changes to firearms to comply with the restrictions.  This suggests that Biden intends to define an “assault weapon” to include all semi-automatic rifles that are capable of accepting a detachable magazine.  He also plans to ban magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds.  Unlike the prior “assault weapons” ban, ownership of firearms defined as “assault weapons” and magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds would not be grandfathered.  Instead, they would be regulated as “firearms” for purposes of the National Firearms Act and treated in the same manner as machineguns and short-barreled rifles.  This means that they would be registered with the federal government, a license would be required to own them, and a $200 transfer tax would be imposed every time ownership is transferred.  Persons not wanting to register them would be required to sell them to the federal government.
  • Transfer jurisdiction over the export of most firearms back to the Department of State.  Earlier this year, the Trump administration completed the transfer of jurisdiction over the export of most firearms from the Department of Commerce to the Department of State.  This transfer had begun under the Obama administration, and the export of firearms is still regulated and requires a license from the federal government.  The Department of Commerce’s regulations, however, are more business-friendly. 
  • Completely ban the online sale of firearms, ammunition, firearms components, and firearms kits.  No detail on this proposal is provided.  While federal law allows firearms to be sold online, if the sale is made to someone without a federal firearms license, the firearm must be shipped to a federally licensed firearms dealer in the purchaser’s state of residence.  The firearm is then transferred in the same manner as a firearm purchased in the store.  Unlike firearms, however, the sale of ammunition and firearms components and kits (other than frames or receivers) are not regulated by federal law in that they are not required to have serial numbers, and Form 4473s and NICS checks are not required to purchase them.  This proposal could telegraph that the Biden administration will be seeking to impose the same restrictions that apply to the sale of firearms to ammunition and firearms components.

The Biden plan to “End Gun Violence” is extensive and includes many additional components.  Most of the proposals will require legislation to implement, which shines a renewed spotlight on the January 5, 2021 runoff elections in Georgia for the two remaining seats in the U.S. Senate.  If the Democrats win both of these seats, the Senate would be divided 50-50 and Vice-President Harris could cast the tie-vote in favor of new gun control legislation.

If you have any questions regarding the PLCAA, or the changes to federal firearms laws sought by Biden, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.