The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms wants gun dealers on the southern border to report bulk sales of assault weapons for six months. These semiautomatic rifles are popular with Mexican drug cartels. More than the AFT's temporary measure is needed.
With nearly 12,500 people reported killed in drug-related violence in Mexico this year, the Obama administration is belatedly taking a small step to curb the flow of guns from US dealers to the drug cartels.
In May, Mexican President Felipe Calderón visited Washington and urged the Congress and president to dam up the river of guns – more than 60,000 in four years – coursing south. Mr. Calderón wants Congress to reinstate the prohibition on assault weapons, a 10-year ban that expired in 2004.
But the National Rifle Association (NRA) has targeted so many lawmakers, they quake before the gun lobby. Mr. Obama has been forced to attack this problem through regulation – although his campaign platform included reinstating the ban.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is proposing that about 8,500 federally licensed gun dealers along the border report bulk sales of so-called assault weapons – semiautomatic rifles such as AK-47s, which are popular with the cartels.
The “emergency” measure, as the ATF calls it, is to help the agency track suspected gunrunning patterns of military-style weapons. The ATF already collects bulk-sale information on handguns.
It’s a small step, considering its temporary nature and the fact that the guns will already be out the door by the time the understaffed ATF can analyze the data.
But it’s also an important tool, helping the agency get a bigger picture of where the likely sources for gunrunners are – and setting up the first big test between this administration and the gun lobby.