Proposal calls for gun dealers to report bulk sales of assault weapons

In 2007, there were seven slayings in National City, Calif., involving guns. In the past three years there have been only three.
By James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 17, 2010; 8:40 AM

To stem the flow of guns to Mexico, federal firearms regulators are proposing an emergency requirement that certain gun dealers along the southwestern border report bulk sales of so-called assault weapons beginning as soon as January.

Dealers would be required to alert authorities when they sell within five consecutive business days two or more semiautomatic rifles greater than .22 caliber with detachable magazines, according to the draft obtained by The Washington Post. Semiautomatic rifles such as AK-47s and AR-15s are favored by drug-trafficking organizations fighting the Mexican government.

ATF chief spokesman Scot Thomasson declined to comment.

The plan by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revives a proposal that has languished at the Justice Department and in the Obama administration for several months, according to people with knowledge of the proposal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter before it becomes public.

The idea of such a requirement is so controversial to many gun owners that administration officials proceeded cautiously for fear of provoking the National Rifle Association, sources said.

The proposal could mark the gun lobby's first major showdown with the administration.

On Thursday, Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, lambasted the plan as an attempt to create a national gun registry.

"This administration does not have the guts to build a wall, but they do have the audacity to blame and register gun owners for Mexico's problems," Cox said. "NRA supports legitimate efforts to stop criminal activity, but we will not stand idle while our Second Amendment is sacrificed for politics."

Ted Novin, a spokesman for the gun industry group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, noted the timing after the election and said, "This is an ill-considered proposal and one that ATF does not have the legal authority to unilaterally impose."

One of those pushing the administration to act was New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's office and his policy adviser, John Feinblatt, who first proposed such a requirement early in the administration. "Sixteen months ago, we called for it," Feinblatt said. "It's time to do it."

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has called for the United States to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired six years ago.

More than 60,000 guns seized by Mexican police and military in the drug wars have been traced back to U.S. sources, the ATF has said. More than 30,000 police officers, civilians, journalists and cartel members have died in the struggle.

Under the plan, the ATF, which enforces federal gun laws and regulates firearm dealers, would send what is called a "demand letter" to dealers along the border asking them to report the multiple sales, ATF officials said.

Emergency approval would last six months, after which the requirement would end unless other action were taken, the draft states. Approval from the Office of Management and Budget "has been requested by Jan. 5, 2011," the document states.

The ATF is expected to publish in the Federal Register on Friday a notice about the plan, which would affect about 8,500 gun dealers. Although the ATF proposes that the rule would begin as early as January, comments about the proposed rule will be accepted for the next two months.

When the NRA got wind of the idea last month, it warned its 4 million members in a "grassroots alert" that the administration might try to go around Congress to get such a plan enacted as an executive order or rule.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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