This week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations approved, by a vote of 30-19, an amendment offered by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), to prohibit the use of federal funds to carry out the BATFE’s requirement that firearm dealers in the four southwestern border states file “multiple sales” reports on individuals who buy more than one detachable-magazine semi-automatic rifle of greater than .22 caliber in a five-day period.
The NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation are challenging the reporting requirement in federal court, arguing that this “demand letter” program is illegal because Congress has specifically required multiple sales reports only on handguns, implicitly exempting other firearms from the requirement. And as Rep. Rehberg said after the committee’s vote, if the BATFE’s scheme is allowed to continue, it “could be expanded to other states using the same obscure regulatory process used to create the rule.”
BATFE--which as part of its Operation Fast and Furious knowingly allowed straw purchasers to obtain firearms in the United States for trafficking to Mexican drug cartels--contends that the rifle reports will help the agency identify and prosecute the very same activity.
So it’s no coincidence that, as the House committee prepared to vote on the Rehberg amendment, the agency released new data on firearms that were confiscated in Mexico between 2007 and 2011, and that Mexico subsequently asked the BATFE to trace.
As with most reports on such traces, the new data don’t pertain to firearms that have no U.S. manufacturer or importation markings, or that have markings indicating they originated in a country other than the United States. Mexico would not ask the BATFE to trace such firearms, because the agency cannot trace firearms that weren’t manufactured in, or imported into, the United States.
The mainstream media rarely include that distinction in their coverage, however. For example, in the headline to its report on the new data, CNN said “most firearms recovered at Mexican crime scenes originate in U.S.” Deeper in the report, however, CNN quoted a BATFE spokesman saying “Our job is to provide the aggregate tracing figures and not to speculate,” and then added “Anti‑gun advocates were not so restrained. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D‑California, a leading gun‑control voice on Capitol Hill, said the figures are evidence of the need for stricter gun laws.”
Indeed Feinstein did. In a press release, Feinstein said “New ATF Data Proves Overwhelming Majority of Guns Recovered in Mexico Come from U.S. . . . . This [sic] data makes it very clear that we need to increase our efforts to starve the supply of American weapons that arm Mexico’s brutal drug trafficking organizations.” Similarly, longtime handgun prohibition activist Josh Sugarmann’s “organization”--the “Violence Policy Center”--titled its press release “Vast Majority of Mexican Crime Guns Originate in U.S. New ATF Trace Data Reveals.”
Feinstein and Sugarmann have to rely on misleading headlines because the data don’t support their agendas. Between 2007 and 2011, only 27.8 percent of the firearms for which traces were sought could be traced to U.S. purchasers. Thirty-nine percent were untraceable, most likely because they were sold in the United States long before the December 2006 start of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war on the cartels. (According to BATFE data released as part of the sales report litigation, even when a firearm can be traced, the average time between its initial U.S. sale and a trace request from Mexico was more than 15 years.) The rest were not of U.S. manufacture, were of undetermined origin, or were traced to a foreign country.