White House delays gun reporting requirement along Mexican border

Authorities have struggled to keep U.S. retailers' firearms from falling into the hands of drug cartels as violence increases south of the border.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 10:46 PM

White House budget officials dealt federal firearms investigators a setback Friday when they rejected an emergency request for a rule meant to help catch gunrunners to Mexico.

The decision delays for at least two months a proposed requirement that gun dealers along the Mexican border report anyone who buys two or more assault weapons in five days. White House officials said the delay will give the public more time - until Feb. 14 - to comment on the proposal.

Meg Reilly, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the decision follows President Obama's directive to curb excessive regulation and "is consistent with the president's call for more transparency and opportunities for public participation in his recent executive order."

The delay marks the second time that the rule, which is strongly opposed by the gun industry and the National Rifle Association, has been put on hold. The idea was shelved by then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last year and was not reconsidered until after the midterm congressional elections.

Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had hoped the reporting requirement would help them track potential gunrunners - people such as accused trafficker Sean Christopher Steward, a 28-year-old Phoenix man who purchased more than 100 AK-47s in a single month.

Steward is one of 34 people charged last week with trafficking about 700 firearms to Mexico. Over two days in early December 2009, Steward purchased 50 assault weapons at two stores. Then, on Christmas Eve, he purchased another 40 at a store in Glendale, Ariz. ATF investigators believe the weapons were meant to arm the Sinoloa drug cartel.

ATF officials requested the rule on an emergency basis after more than 30,000 people have been killed and more than 65,000 guns from the United States have been seized during the Mexican government's war with the drug cartels.

This week, Mexico's National Security Council secretary, Alejandro Poire Romero, expressed his concern about U.S. officials' commitment to stopping guns from crossing the border. In an interview, he said, "We need an overwhelming response to prevent these cartels from buying guns in the United States."

Under the proposal, dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas would report multiple sales of semiautomatic rifles of greater than .22 caliber with detachable magazines. Rifles such as AK-47s and AR-15s are favored by the cartels.

ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson had hoped the rule would win broad approval. The purpose, Melson said, "is to identify criminal firearms traffickers, not to prevent the full and free exercise of our Second Amendment rights or to encumber the [dealers] with burdensome paperwork."

But the gun lobby rallied opposition on Capitol Hill. Three Democratic senators and 35 House members wrote to the administration opposing the rule.

"Multiple-sales reporting for long guns is an ill-considered mandate and one that ATF does not have the legal authority to unilaterally impose," gun industry spokesman Ted Novin said. "This reporting requirement would further burden law-abiding firearms retailers with yet another onerous regulation that would do nothing to curb crime."

ATF received good news earlier in the week, however, when the OMB made an unusual announcement that ATF had won a budget battle. Early budget documents obtained by The Washington Post showed that ATF would get a cut of nearly $160 million out of a $1.25 billion budget request - a 12.8 percent reduction that would be 3.6 percent below the current budget.

"Even as we make tough choices across the government," Reilly said, "the 2012 budget includes robust support for Southwest border security, including an increase above current funding levels for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives."

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