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Sofia Ahmed
By Sofia Ahmed February 28, 2024

Migrants living in the U.S. unlawfully can not legally purchase firearms

If Your Time is short

  • Federal law prohibits migrants who are in the U.S. illegally from buying firearms. 

  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks the power to change or alter federal law. 

  •  Learn more about PolitiFact’s fact-checking process and rating system.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not updated a policy that would let migrants in the U.S. without legal status buy firearms, as social media posts have claimed. 

In an Instagram reel, a woman says, "My husband owns a gun shop, and he just called me to tell me that the 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. Now, this strangely coincides with California, New York and Chicago making it legal for illegals to be police officers." 

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The Gun Control Act is codified in federal law at 18 U.S.C. 922, which says it is unlawful to sell a firearm or ammunition to any person who is illegally or unlawfully in the United States. 

Kristina Mastropasqua, an ATF spokesperson, said the agency cannot make or change federal law, including the Gun Control Act, as only Congress holds that power. 

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Also, background checks are run by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

PolitiFact previously found that although an Illinois law enacted in 2024 makes it legal for noncitizens to become police officers, that law applies only to those who are both legally allowed to work in the U.S. and own a firearm. Because federal law says only immigrants who are in the U.S. legally may own a firearm, immigrants who are unlawfully in the country are ineligible to become police officers. 

That is also true of a 2022 California law, which made it legal for noncitizens who have work authorization and can legally possess a gun to become police officers. 

Information by the New York City Police Department says only U.S. citizens may apply to the police force. 

We rate the claim that the ATF updated its background check policy to allow "illegal immigrants" to purchase firearms False. 

Our Sources

Instagram post (archived), Feb. 27, 2024

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Identify Prohibited Persons, Jan. 9, 2020 

Email interview with Kristina Mastropasqua, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesperson, Feb. 28, 2024

Office of the Law Revision Counsel United States Code, 18 USC 922: Unlawful acts, accessed Feb. 27, 2024

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Firearm Checks (NICS), accessed Feb. 28, 2024

PolitiFact, Illinois law expanding police eligibility to some immigrants is narrower than critics say, Aug. 11, 2023

CalMatters, California made it legal for DACA immigrants to work as police. Which departments are hiring them?, Jan. 24, 2024

New York City Police Department, Hiring Process, accessed Feb. 28, 2024

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Migrants living in the U.S. unlawfully can not legally purchase firearms

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