It requires about 8,500 dealers operating in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to alert authorities when a person buys within five days two or more semiautomatic rifles greater than .22-caliber with detachable magazines.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the rule will help the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce to criminals and criminal organizations.”
NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said the rifle association will take the firearms bureau to court. “ATF and the administration lack the statutory authority to do this, and the NRA will file suit as soon as ATF sends the first demand letters” to dealers, Cox said.
The administration has been loath to take on the gun lobby, and one gun control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has given Obama a failing grade on gun violence. But pro-gun activists seized on the decision, made by the White House Office of Management and Budget, to accuse the administration of trying to take attention away from a bungled ATF anti-smuggling operation.
Congress is investigating the ATF operation, code-named “Fast and Furious,” which aimed to take down cartels trading in drugs and guns. ATF leaders say they made mistakes in their strategy of letting obvious straw buyers continue to make purchases once they had been tagged as suspected gunrunners for Mexican cartels.
The Washington Post reported in February that two guns linked to the Fast and Furious investigation were found at the scene of the killing of a Border Patrol agent.
Many current and former ATF agents said that if the new reporting rule had already been in place, it might have deterred the types of mistakes made in Fast and Furious.
ATF estimates that the rule will generate as many as 18,000 reports annually, which are to be used as leads for agents on the lookout for straw purchasers — people who claim to be true buyers of weapons when they actually are buying them for others. Without the rule, ATF must rely on those gun dealers who agree to cooperate — something they managed in Fast and Furious.
“This is exactly what ATF agents on the ground told Congress — that reporting multiple sales of military-grade assault weapons is a crucial tool to identify and disrupt Mexican drug cartels engaged in gun trafficking,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
But the congressman leading the investigation into the ATF operation disagreed. “In Operation Fast and Furious, gun dealers didn’t need this regulation, as they voluntarily provided ATF agents with information about suspected straw purchasers,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee.