Firearms dealers will soon have more regulatory reporting requirements hoisted on them with a new rule proposed by the nation’s top gun-enforcement agency Tuesday.
The new rule will require firearm dealers, manufacturers and importers to report any guns that are shipped but then lost in transit within two days, according to a proposal issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The rule’s goal is to crack down on potential guns lost in transit and then used in crimes. Federal regulations already require firearm dealers to report guns lost in their inventories within 48 hours after discovery, but there’s no reporting regulations on guns lost in transit.
Within the last 15 years, gun thefts that happen during transport have increased 20 percent, the ATF said. From 2008 to 2012 there were about 1,500 cases where agents traced guns that weren’t reported as missing and dealers said they never received them, the agency said.
“The omissions in the regulations regarding reporting the theft or loss of a firearm in transit adversely affect ATF’s local law enforcement’s investigative and tracing capabilities,” the proposed rule said.
Out of the millions of guns shipped each year, the number lost in transit is minimal, said Larry Keane, a senior vice president for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry. What this proposed rule will do is add increased burden and cost on the dealers who ship the guns, leading to fewer jobs and higher prices on the consumers who want to purchase the firearms, he said.
“There’s already in place voluntary reporting when guns are lost or stolen in transit, and ATF has never said members aren’t cooperating or this is even a problem,” Mr. Keane said. “Manufactures work very closely with ATF when situations arise to help in the investigation — which usually ends up to be someone in the common carrier — but these cases are exceedingly rare.”
Last year, the FBI conducted more than 21 million background checks — the most ever — which are often used as a signal on how many guns are sold. If only 1,500 were stolen during transit, out of more than 12 million sold, then the industry is already doing a good job and no rule-making is needed, Mr. Keane argued.
The 1,500 figure is likely a conservative estimate as it only represents guns used in crimes that were recovered and traced by local authorities — the total number of guns lost and stolen in transit but not reported is likely much higher, said ATF spokeswoman Dannette Seward.
The proposed rule is not designed to place more regulatory burden dealers, but rather to clarify that shippers are the responsible party when a firearm is lost in transit, Ms. Seward said.
“The proposed regulation makes clear who must report, but does not add any additional reporting requirements,” Ms. Seward said. “The proposed regulation does not require universal tracking by shippers. The requirement to report kicks in only when the shipper becomes aware that the receiver did not receive the firearm, which could occur in a number of ways, including when the receiver notifies the shipper that the firearm never arrived, the common carrier advises its clients of a theft or loss, or through other means.”