New York Times by Charles Savage
Published: July 11, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday approved a new regulation requiring firearms dealers along the Southwest border to report multiple sales of certain semiautomatic rifles, a rule intended to make it harder for Mexican drug cartels to obtain and smuggle weapons from the United States.
Under the rule, dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas will be required to inform the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if someone buys — within a five-day period — more than one semiautomatic rifle that accepts a detachable magazine and uses ammunition greater than .22 caliber. Such weapons include AK-47s.
Dealers nationwide are already required to report bulk sales of handguns, and the A.T.F. applied to impose such a regulation late last year to help detect bulk “straw buyers” — people who say they are buying weapons for themselves but then transfer them to criminals.
In a statement, the deputy attorney general, James Cole, said the regulation was justified by the need to help the A.T.F. “detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce to criminals” and in particular to “help confront the problem of illegal gun trafficking into Mexico.”
“The international expansion and increased violence of transnational criminal networks pose a significant threat to the United States,” Mr. Cole said, adding that rifles covered by the new regulation “are highly sought after by dangerous drug-trafficking organizations and frequently recovered at violent crime scenes near the Southwest border.”
The proposal has been hotly contested by gun-control advocates, and Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president for the National Rifle Association, said his organization was preparing to sue the government once it tried to begin enforcing the regulation.
Mr. LaPierre contended that it should take an act of Congress to impose such a requirement, not a regulation developed by the executive branch alone. He noted that the similar rule requiring dealers to report multiple handgun sales was part of the Gun Control Act of 1968.
“We view it as a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to pursue their gun-control agenda through backdoor rule making, and the N.R.A. will fight them every step of the way,” he said. “There are three branches of government and separation of powers, and we believe they do not have the authority to do this.”
An A.T.F. spokesman cited a federal statute governing the licensing of firearms dealers as the source of the agency’s legal authority to enact a regulation allowing it to collect the information about bulk sales of semiautomatic rifles.
The A.T.F. unveiled its proposal for the new rule in December, and originally sought permission to impose it more quickly under emergency procedures. But in February, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget rejected that request, saying that gunrunning to Mexico was a continuing problem — not the kind of fast-moving situation that justifies making an exception to the normal process for reviewing new regulations.
The approval for the regulation comes at a time when the A.T.F.’s efforts to combat straw purchasing and gunrunning along the border is under intense Congressional scrutiny because of a botched investigation called Operation Fast and Furious.
In that operation, federal agents, wanting to trace the flow of guns from straw buyers to drug cartels, monitored the purchase of several thousand guns but did not intervene before some were smuggled into Mexico. The bureau then lost track of many of them, and two later turned up at the scene of a shootout in Arizona where an American Border Patrol agent was killed.