The Office of Management and Budget today approved a federal rule that will require gun-dealers along the U.S southwest border to report multiple sales of semi-automatic weapons with detachable magazines.
Under the rule, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will send requests to gun dealers in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico seeking information on gun buyers who purchase two or more weapons a week that are long guns with semi-automatic action, have a caliber greater than .22 and have a detachable magazine.
Department of Justice and ATF officials say the rule is needed to combat the flow of guns going to Mexico and straw purchasers.
"Federal, state and foreign law enforcement agencies have determined that certain types of semi-automatic rifles -? greater than .22 caliber and with the ability to accept a detachable magazine -? are highly sought after by dangerous drug trafficking organizations and frequently recovered at violent crime scenes near the Southwest Border," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said.
"This new reporting measure -- tailored to focus only on multiple sales of these types of rifles to the same person within a five-day period -- will improve the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce to criminals and criminal organizations."
Officials estimate that it will take two to three weeks for the ATF to begin sending the information requests. The National Rifle Association said it planned to challenge the Obama administration's effort with a lawsuit.
Association president Wayne LaPierre said, "We believe they don't have the legal authority to do this. We don't believe it will stand up in court.
"They are trying to backdoor Congress."
LaPierre said the lawsuit will seek to challenge the administration's authority to use the federal rulemaking process to require the gun dealers to report the sales in the four states.
OMB approval of the plan comes as House and Senate oversight investigators have continued their inquiry into an ATF operation in Arizona called Fast and Furious. Three ATF agents testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee last month that rather than shutting down the illegal gun trade going to gunrunners and, eventually, the drug cartels, ATF agents watched and monitored sales by straw purchasers.
The hearings revealed that ATF knowingly allowed as many as 1,800 U.S. guns to be bought by straw purchasers to be sent to Mexico.
The operation took a tragic toll in December when two weapons found at the scene of murdered Border Patrol agent Brian Terry were linked to the ATF program. Focus on the congressional inquiry intensified when ATF Director Ken Melson testified before congressional investigators in a secret appearance with his personal lawyer, rather than with counsel from the ATF and Justice Department.
LaPierre of the NRA said federal law enforcement should focus on existing gun control measures such as the instant check system. He also expressed outrage toward the ATF for the Fast and Furious scandal. "It should shock every American what they did. ? We may see these guns for the next several decades," he said.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, "In fact, in just the documents we've obtained, we are aware of 150 multiple long guns sales associated with the ATF's Fast and Furious case, and despite the fact that nearly all of these sales were reported in real time by cooperating gun dealers, the ATF watched the guns be transported from known straw purchasers to third parties and then let the guns walk away, often across the border.
"This makes it pretty clear that the problem isn't lack of burdensome reporting requirements. The administration's continued overreach with regulations continues, and is a distraction from its reckless policy to allow guns to walk into Mexico."