BATFE Will Take Step Towards National Gun Sales Registration; NRA Will Take BATFE to Court

Posted on July 15, 2011

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On Monday, July 11, the Obama administration announced that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will soon begin requiring firearm dealers in the southwestern border states to file “multiple sale” reports on detachable-magazine rifles larger than .22 caliber. Under the plan, each dealer will be required to report, to the BATFE, any sale of two or more such rifles to a single individual with a period of five business days.

The administration’s decision, supposedly aimed at the trafficking of U.S. firearms to Mexican drug cartels, follows findings by Congress that the BATFE, in "Operation Fast and Furious," knowingly allowed straw purchasers to buy five, 10 or 20 firearms in single transactions and transfer them to higher-level gun traffickers working for the cartels. Disapproving of the new sales reporting scheme, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said “It is the height of hypocrisy for the Obama administration to restrict the gun rights of border state citizens, when the administration itself knowingly and intentionally allowed guns to be trafficked into Mexico.”

NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox promised legal action to stop the BATFE from implementing the rifle sales reports requirement. “The Administration lacks the statutory authority to do this and the NRA will file suit as soon as ATF sends the first demand letters” to dealers, Cox said. The BATFE lacks the authority because Congress has specifically required similar reports only for handgun sales, and therefore implicitly rejected such a requirement for other guns.

The move has already sparked action by pro-gun federal lawmakers. The House Appropriations Committee voted on Wednesday to ban any use of appropriated funds for the scheme (please see related story above), and even before the administration announcement, Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced S. 570 to prohibit the use of federal funds for long gun sales reporting.

Gun control activist groups have demanded the new reporting requirement for months. Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns called for it as part of its August 2009 Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns. As recently as last week, MAIG ignored the fact that Fast and Furious knowingly allowed straw purchasers to fill up their cars with guns and drive away unimpeded, telling President Obama that the rifle reports would “help ATF and other law enforcement identify individuals who may be buying guns like AK-47s and AR-15s by the carload.”

Even if the sales report requirement survives a legal challenge, it is doubtful that it would satisfy gun control supporters’ desire for ever-increasing record-keeping on firearm purchases. Bloomberg said the requirement is “a logical step” and Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., called it “a step that should prevent straw purchasers and individuals from illegally purchasing weapons in the U.S.” Their comments echoed the Brady Campaign’s earlier characterization of the requirement as “a first step of what should be a comprehensive approach to prevent gun violence in Mexico, and in America.” (Emphases added.)

The subsequent steps that Bloomberg, Sarukhan and the Brady Campaign have in mind are easy to anticipate. First, since some firearm dealers in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana are closer to the Mexican city most plagued by cartel murders, Ciudad Juarez, than dealers in some parts of California, gun control supporters could call for the rifle sales reporting requirement to be expanded to dealers in more states and, ultimately, nationwide. They could demand that the reporting requirement be expanded to the purchase of any two firearms—rifle, handgun, or shotgun—in any combination. And as illegal buyers predictably change their behavior to avoid reporting, anti-gun groups would likely demand a reporting threshold longer than five days.

Second, since straw purchasers could avoid appearing in dealers’ sales reports by buying firearms from multiple dealers, gun control supporters could demand that the instant check system be used to track how often an individual buys guns, as Virginia does to enforce its so-called “one gun a month” law. (Of course, gun control supporters would not be satisfied with a 30-day purchase record retention requirement. In 2009, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced legislation, S. 2820, proposing that the FBI be authorized to retain records of approved firearm transactions for 180 days.)

Finally, gun control supporters have already called sales by non-dealers a “loophole” that should be "closed" by prohibiting ordinary private firearm sales. Legislation to that effect, H.R. 1781, has already been introduced in Congress by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.).

None of this would affect the ability of the cartels to obtain guns by theft, by pay-offs to corrupt Mexican police officers and military personnel, or by smuggling from Central America. But, of course, for gun control supporters that has never been the goal.

Editor’s Note:  In response to the BATFE plan to force the reporting of semi-automatic rifle sales by Federal Firearm Licensees (FFL’s) in Southwest border states including Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, NRA-ILA is looking to gather as much information as possible about the BATFE demand letters.  If you are:

1)   a FFL; and

2)   received a letter from the BATFE requiring you to report multiple sales, or other dispositions, of two or more rifles, as described above, and;

3)   you have conducted such sales in the past and believe that the letter you received requires you to report them to the BATFE,

please contact NRA-ILA’s Office of Legislative Counsel.  The office may be reached by phone at (703) 267-1161, fax (703) 267-1164 or email at ILALegal@nrahq.org.  If you contact the office via fax or email, please be sure to provide your name, contact information, and, if possible, a copy of the letter you received. 

Please do not contact this office if you are not a FFL, have not received one of these demand letters, or do not conduct sales that would require such reporting.

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