White House eyes 'gun trust' loophole

The Obama administration is working to close a loophole in the nation’s gun laws that allows for some machine guns and sawed-off shotguns to be sold without the buyer submitting fingerprints or photographs.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is working on a new regulation that would require more background information when the weapons are sold to someone through a corporation or legal trust.

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That would eliminate a discrepancy between sales to individuals and those to legal entities, including so-called “gun trusts,” which firearms enthusiasts have used to acquire the weapons without going through normal channels.

On Tuesday, the ATF sent the proposed regulation to the White House for a 90-day review, a final step before the draft rule is unveiled to the public.

Normally, when an individual buys a machine gun or short-barreled shotgun, they have to submit their fingerprints and picture to the ATF, and the local chief law enforcement officer has to assert that there is no reason to believe it would be illegal for the buyer to own the gun.

However, those same requirements don’t apply when the gun is bought in the name of a corporation or legal trust instead of an individual person.

It is illegal in the United States for civilians to purchase machine guns made after 1986.

The trusts can be formed relatively easily by a lawyer and cost a few hundred dollars. Aside from the ease of securing restricted weapons, they also assure that gun owners’ firearms will be transferred to their loved ones when they die without going through bureaucratic channels.

A spokesman with the ATF declined to detail the measures of the new proposal, since it is still in draft form.

However, an online notice said that it will require “responsible persons” designated by the legal trusts to submit forms, photographs and fingerprints to the ATF and forwarded to the local chief police officer. The rule will also define the term “responsible person.” 

The new rule will only apply to sale of machine guns, silencers and similar firearms for which the AFT has special restrictions.

According to reports, the number of applications to transfer restricted guns to trusts has skyrocketed in the recent years, to more than 39,000 last year.

In the wake of Republican opposition to gun control measures in Congress, the Obama administration has had little recourse but to target guns through executive action. 

Obama had pushed congressional action in response to December’s shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but Senate Republicans halted a measure to expand background checks, effectively killing chances of new legislation.