WASHINGTON (AP) — Moving to crack down on gun smugglers, the federal agency that monitors weapons sales is asking the White House for emergency authority to require that dealers near the Mexican border report multiple purchases of high powered rifles.
According to a notice published Friday in the Federal Register, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has asked the White House to approve a requirement that border-area gun dealers report the sales of two or more rifles to the same customer within a five-day period.
The move by ATF, intended to help Mexican authorities in their campaign against violent drug gangs, is likely to face stiff opposition from gun rights advocates.
“This is nothing more than a political policy that seems to be based more on Mexico blaming the United states for Mexico’s problems,” said Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist. “To focus the efforts on law abiding gun owners is not a serious approach. It won’t do anything to disrupt a multibillion dollar criminal enterprise.”
The proposal was first reported by the Washington Post.
Scot Thomasson, ATF’s chief spokesman, said the agency expects to the plan to be approved and implemented. ATF wants the White House Office of Management and Budget to sign off on its request by Jan. 5.
High-powered rifles have become the weapon of choice for Mexico’s warring drug cartels. More than 30,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the powerful drug gangs shortly after taking office in late 2006.
Officials on both sides of the border have said these types of weapons are routinely bought legally in the United States and then smuggled into Mexico, where firearms sales are highly restricted. The proposed reporting requirement would apply to sales of two or more semi-automatic guns more powerful than .22-caliber rifles that use a detachable magazine.
ATF tracks weapons found in Mexico and has tied tens of thousands of recovered guns to U.S. dealers, but the agency has been criticized for not doing enough to curb the flow of guns.
The new reporting requirement, which mirrors one already in place for handguns and revolvers, would be the “greatest investigative tool to identify firearms traffickers,” Thomasson said.
Last month, a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general criticized the agency’s Operation Gunrunner as being narrowly focused on individual gun buyers and not larger smuggling organizations believed responsible for significant numbers of guns being shipped across the border.
The proposed reporting requirement on multiple sales was among several recommendations made by the inspector general, Thomasson said.
If approved by the White House, the new requirement would affect nearly 8,500 border-area gun dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas and be in place for 180 days.