House votes to prevent reporting system for assault-weapon sales

By James V. Grimaldi
Sunday, February 20, 2011

The House voted overwhelmingly Friday to block the Obama administration from implementing a controversial proposal meant to give federal authorities a new tool to catch gunrunners to Mexico.

The proposed rule was strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association, which praised the House for taking the action.

The measure passed with bipartisan support, 277 to 149, which added it to a massive spending bill that would keep the federal government running through September.

The amendment by Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from using federal money to require licensed firearm dealers to report multiple sales of assault weapons.

Under the proposed rule, 8,500 gun dealers near the U.S.-Mexico border 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.

Semiautomatic rifles such as AK-47s and AR-15s are favored by drug-trafficking organizations fighting the Mexican government.

On his Twitter account, Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican ambassador to the United States, called the vote "unfortunate."

More than 34,000 people have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006 and launched a sustained effort to eliminate violent drug-trafficking cartels. More than 65,000 guns recovered in Mexico have been traced back to the United States.

But NRA officials said the rule hurt gun rights.

"Any proposal that only burdens law-aiding gun owners and retailers - as this proposal does - is a non-starter with the NRA," said Chris W. Cox, executive director for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "To put it very simply, if someone is breaking the law, go after them full-bore. If they aren't, leave them alone."

Cox praised Boren and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) for driving the amendment to passage.

To take effect, the spending bill and its amendments must pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama, who has threatened a veto. John Feinblatt, a chief aide to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who has urged more restrictions on gun sales, called on senators to block the Boren amendment from taking effect, saying it was a "dangerous, anti-police measure."

Nearly 20 senators, including three Democrats from Western states, have written letters opposing the proposed rule.

ATF had asked the White House to approve the rule last month on an emergency basis, but 17 senators objected to that tactic, saying, "We are especially alarmed by ATF's attempt to regulate the sale of firearms through an emergency notice such as this, which has not been properly vetted by Congress or by the affected public."

Last week, the White House budget office rejected the emergency procedure and said the proposal would go through the usual process, lasting through March. In the meantime, NRA lobbyists took the battle to Capitol Hill, where in recent decades the NRA has used appropriations bills to prevent increased gun control. In 2003, Congress passed the Tiahrt amendment to prevent public access to a database of guns used in crimes.

Comments on the proposed rule, which would affect dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, closed Monday.

The reports from dealers were expected to give leads to ATF investigators seeking to catch gunrunners to Mexico. However, the NRA opposed the proposal because "this reporting scheme would create a registry of owners of many of today's most popular rifles - firearms owned by millions of Americans for self-defense, hunting and other lawful purposes," the NRA said in a statement released Friday night.

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