After nearly two years of foot-dragging while the death toll in the Mexican drug wars rose beyond 30,000, the Obama administration is finally stepping up the fight against the easy movement of illegal guns across the United States’ border with Mexico and into the hands of violent drug cartels.
This has long been an open scandal. An analysis of government gun-trace data by the coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that many thousands of guns recovered from Mexican crime scenes and traced between 2006 and 2009 were originally sold by American gun dealers. According to a recent investigation by The Washington Post, eight of the top 10 dealers in Mexican crime guns have shops near the border.
To stem this deadly flow, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is seeking emergency authority to require gun dealers near the border to report multiple purchases of the high-firepower rifles favored by cartel gunmen.
The White House Office of Management and Budget, which must sign off on the A.T.F. plan, should promptly do so. The new reporting requirement, while not a solution, is an important step. It will make it easier to identify and prosecute gun traffickers and, potentially, deter multiple sales using straw purchasers.
All gun dealers already have to report multiple handgun sales to federal authorities. The new rule would extend that requirement to AK-47’s and other battlefield assault rifles. The cartels have shown an increasing preference for high-capacity rifles like these.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, urged the Obama administration to create such an initiative more than a year ago. Until now, the White House has ducked the issue, presumably to help the prospects of those Democrats with top ratings from the National Rifle Association. But this has not helped to stop the traffic.
The N.R.A. is predictably opposed to the initiative. The administration must hold its ground and, beginning in January, press the next Congress to remove statutory limitations hampering the A.T.F.’s ability to shut down irresponsible dealers near the border and elsewhere.