ATF to Require U.S. Arm Dealers in SW Border States to Report Multiple Sales of Semi-Automatic Rifles

By Edwin Mora | December 22, 2010 | 4:01 AM EST

M16, Semi-Automatic Rifle

( - The acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) says he expects the White House to approve an ATF proposal to impose an emergency regulation requiring U.S. gun dealers along the southwestern border to report multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles.

Ken Melson, ATF’s acting director, said during a Dec. 20 Webcast, “We took this step as a way to help gain actionable law enforcement intelligence, which we believe will help reduce criminal firearms trafficking along the Southwest border.”

Pro-gun rights groups oppose the ATF proposal.

On Dec. 17, the ATF announced through the Federal Register its intent to require the reporting of multiple sales of certain long guns by licensed firearms dealers in four Southwest border states.

An ATF spokesperson told that the reporting requirement will apply to all licensed firearms dealers -- approximately 8,500 of them -- in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Under the proposal, the ATF would require dealers to report to authorities when they sell within five consecutive business days two or more semi-automatic rifles greater than .22 caliber and with detachable ammunition magazines.

“Before we can actually issue the Demand Letter [to firearms dealers] we must receive approval from the Office of Management and Budget for purposes of the paperwork reduction act,” said Melson. “We expect to receive that approval in early January 2011.”

The White House press office did not return’s requests for comment.

The ATF director said the initiative will be implemented “as a pilot project for a period of one year,” although the Federal Register announcement states that approval of the proposal is valid for a trial period of about 6 months.

The Federal Register posting says that emergency approval would last 180 days (or 6 months) for a comment and review period. After that time, the ATF can request to end the requirement or ask that it be extended for a longer period of time.

Second Amendment groups say no

“We oppose this,” Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association (NRA), told “We support legitimate proposals to curb gun crime. This will do absolutely nothing to address the problem in Mexico. All it will do is further burden law-abiding people and won’t affect the problem in Mexico at all.”

“We think this is bargaining away our Second Amendment and our freedom, and this is a Mexico problem, and the solution resides in Mexico,” she said. “These drug lords are armed with fully automatic firearms, Rocket-Propelled Grenades, armored vehicles – they don’t care about semi-automatic rifles in the United States.”

M1 Carbine, semi-automatic rifle

“This mandate will not only violate federal statutory law prohibiting a federal gun registry, it will also give the [ATF] another excuse to harass American gun dealers, while doing nothing to address the problem of border violence,” the Gun Owners of America (GOA) said in a Dec. 20 statement.

“The Second Amendment is not the cause of border, drug-related violence,” added the GOA, “and as violence increasingly occurs on our side of the border, Second Amendment rights become even more important for self-protection.”

Melson said that the requirement “to report the specified multiple long gun sales” is meant “to identify criminal firearms traffickers, not to prevent the full and free exercise of our Second Amendment rights, or to encumber the [gun dealers] with burdensome paperwork.”

“These reports will give ATF real-time leads for the investigation of gun trafficking,” said Melson. “ATF’s experience in these source states proves that multiple purchases of the described rifles are strong indicators of firearms trafficking to Mexico.”

“By obtaining information about these multiple sales, ATF increases the likelihood of uncovering and disrupting trafficking schemes before the firearms make their way into Mexico,” said Melson.

Nevertheless, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, told The Washington Post on Dec. 17, "This administration does not have the guts to build a wall [along the border], but they do have the audacity to blame and register gun owners for Mexico's problems.”

According to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement data, “large number of rifles are being used in violent crimes in Mexico and along the border,” said Melson.

He went on to say that U.S. gun dealers are already “required to submit a report of multiple sales to the National Tracing Center” when they sell “two or more handguns to the same purchaser within five consecutive business days.”

However, the NRA noted in a Dec. 17 press release, “The legality of requiring sales reports on any long guns is also in doubt. When the Congress specifically imposed multiple sales reporting on handguns only, it implicitly stated its intention that the same requirement not apply to sales of long guns.”

The Gun Owners of America also pointed out that the ATF’s move to pass the proposal by “regulatory fiat” circumvents Congress’ authority.

The GOA said the new rules “will, for the first time, establish the precedent that licensed firearms dealers will be required (by administrative fiat) to report to the government the sale of two or more semi-automatic rifles.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), suggested a similar initiative last year.