Photo: ATF Badge
The Obama Administration recently announced an emergency proposal to require southwest border gun dealers to report multiple sales of semi-automatic assault rifles. This will give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) crucial information for investigating and cracking down on illegal gun traffickers, particularly those who supply weapons to drug cartels in Mexico.
The rule will be effective for 180 days once the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gives its approval. Mayors Against Illegal Guns recommended this policy to the Obama Administration in August of 2009 as part of its Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns. That report had 40 concrete proposals to take guns out of the hands of criminals without passing new laws.
The drug war continues to claim lives at an alarming rate. More than 30,100 people have been murdered since 2006, according to the Mexican government. Violence has spilled over the border into to the U.S., claiming the lives of fourteen U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents since 2006, including Agent Brian Terry who was killed in the line of duty on December 15, 2010 by a suspect armed with an AK-47.
The violence in Mexico is fueled by guns purchased in the United States and trafficked across the border. The Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports that 90 percent of firearms recovered and traced in drug related crimes in Mexico originated in the United States.
ATF officials have also testified to Congress that AR-15s, AK-47s and other high capacity “long guns” are the preferred weapons for Mexican drug cartels and that these weapons were overwhelmingly traced to U.S. sources. According to the OIG, the percentage of crime long guns recovered in Mexico has increased from 20 percent in 2004 to 48 percent in 2009.
Last year, Mayor Against Illegal Guns conducted an analysis that shows that the four southwest border states were the source of 75 percent of these firearms. When controlling for population, Arizona exports guns recovered in Mexican crimes at a higher rate than any other U.S. state.
The new rule when implemented would require gun dealers operating in the four border states to report bulk purchases of certain rifles, including semiautomatic weapons, weapons that are .22 caliber or greater, and weapons that are able to accept a detachable magazine. ATF has the ability to require multiple sales reports through its existing Demand Letter authority.
Reporting bulk sales gives law enforcement a powerful tool in the war against gun trafficking. Federally licensed gun dealers are already required to complete multiple sale reports for handgun sales, and this data has provided the ATF with valuable investigative information. In 2008, ATF initiated roughly 300 criminal investigations connected with 25,000 illegal guns from information gathered in multiple sale reports. Adding rifles to the list of required multiple sale reports will give ATF greater ability to crack down on Mexican drug gangs, while posing a very limited burden on law abiding gun dealers. Implementation of this policy could not come at a more important time.
ATF has the clear authority to require multiple sales reports of long guns through its existing “Demand Letter” authority, which allows the agency to require federal firearms licensees to submit records for inspection, including records of importation, production, receipt, sales, or other disposition of firearms. The information included in multiple sales reports falls within the scope of the ATF’s existing authority and does not require legislative approval.
ATF requested the authority from OMB to implement this rule change by January 5, 2011. Approval has yet to be granted.