Federal lawmakers are backing lawsuits against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) following the introduction of new gun registration requirements in several border states. The lawsuits, supported by the National Rifle Association, aim to stop the ATF from compelling firearms sellers to report multiple purchases.
“The ATF has no authority to track the purchases of law-abiding gun owners and the Second Amendment Task Force applauds the lawsuit to stop this effort,” Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun told The Daily Caller. The task force is a 13-member, bipartisan group of lawmakers established in 2009. Broun is its co-chair.
“Stopping ATF’s continued pattern of infringing on that right will certainly remain a high priority of our group,” said Broun.
In mid-July, the ATF instituted new registration requirements for gun sellers in four border states — New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas — that have been at the center of the bureau’s Project Gun Runner and Operation Fast and Furious controversies. Under the direction of the White House, the ATF will now require the registration of anyone purchasing more than five long rifles within a five-day period, or the purchase of more than one high-powered rifle.
The ATF had been allowing so-called “straw purchasers” of such weapons to complete their transactions and transport the firearms to Mexico as part of a gun-trafficking sting operation. That operation was halted following the shooting death of a border patrol agent by drug traffickers, and after huge caches of guns were sent across the Mexican border.
Last Thursday, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby helped file lawsuits in several of those border states. Now, congressmen are rallying behind the suits and calling for the ATF to stand down or face financial penalties.
While the NRA attempts to halt ATF’s new requirements with a lawsuit, Broun said his task force has already laid the groundwork to curb the ATF’s budget. In February, Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg and Oklahoma Democrat Rep. Dan Boren successfully amended the 2012 Commerce, Justice and Science House Appropriations bill to prevent the ATF from using federal funds to carry out the new requirements.
“The ATF has no legal authority to demand these reports,” said Boren after the successfully including the amendment. “[A]s recently as [fall 2010], ATF claimed that a reporting requirement for long guns ‘may require a change to the Gun Control Act’, and yet with this new regulation they are trying to circumvent doing just that. That’s because they know there is not enough support in Congress to approve this change to the Gun Control Act.”
Utah Rep. and task force member Rob Bishop told TheDC that the new requirements were “puzzling,” and echoed statements he made to The Daily Beast in July, when he said, “Going only through executive action is not good for [Barack Obama’s] relationship with Congress…Those ideas are going to have a great deal of comments and can be abused especially if done by executive order.”
The appropriations bill featuring the amendment must be passed by September 2011 and would bar the ATF from implementing the new requirements in any way, shape or form — including volunteer efforts by the department — according to an aide familiar with the legislation, who said there have been few objections on Capitol Hill.
As for the lawsuits, NRA executive director Chris Cox called the ATF’s actions a “blatant” attempt to circumvent the lawmaking process.
“When the president wants to pass a universal healthcare bill, he goes to Congress. When he wants to raise the debt ceiling, he goes to Congress,” Cox told TheDC. “But when he wants to pass his gun control agenda, there’s no congressional support, so he does an end-run.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice will “vigorously oppose” the NRA-backed lawsuits. The DOJ declined to comment further when contacted by TheDC.