The Justice Department on Monday ordered that all gun dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas be required to notify the federal government about frequent buyers of high-powered rifles, saying that violence along the Southwest border has expanded to a point that it poses a “significant threat” to the United States.
The order comes as the department is under heavy criticism for a controversial weapons operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that sparked allegations that federal agents allowed hundreds of weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, to be “walked” into Mexico for use by drug smugglers. At least three of the weapons have turned up at separate sites where two U.S. agents were killed.
The Obama administration had heavily touted the ATF program, known as “Fast and Furious.”
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the new reporting measures, focusing 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.”
Under the Fast and Furious program, several ATF agents testified they were ordered by their supervisors to “stand down” from surveillance operations and allow weapons purchased by “straw buyers” to travel across the Southwest border into Mexico.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a leading Fast and Furious critic, said Monday’s order would do nothing to stop the flow of firearms to known straw purchasers because many of the gun dealers already are voluntarily reporting suspicious transactions.
“We are aware of 150 multiple long-gun 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,” Mr. Grassley said.
The senator said the order “makes it pretty clear” that the problem isn’t the lack of reporting requirements. He said the administration’s “continued overreach with regulations continues” and was nothing more than a “distraction from its reckless policy to allow guns to walk into Mexico.”
The powerful National Rifle Association also strongly opposed the new reporting requirement, saying the Obama administration should be enforcing existing gun laws instead.
NRA officials said they would file a legal challenge as soon as the first reporting demand went out.