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A proposed rule aimed at helping to curb gun smuggling into Mexico has survived a battle in Congress and could go into effect within two months.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is seeking a pilot program to require gun dealers in California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to report multiple sales of certain types of rifles within any five-day span.

The rule is similar to a federal law requiring dealers to report multiple handgun sales nationwide. Authorities hope that they can use the multiple-sale data to track attempts by Mexican drug cartels to smuggle firearms across the border. A Justice Department inspector general’s report last fall said the “lack of a reporting requirement for multiple sales of long guns … hinders ATF’s ability to disrupt the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico.”

The firearms bureau proposed the rule on an emergency basis within days of border patrol agent Brian Terry being shot and killed near the border in Arizona on Dec. 16. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget in February nixed the effort to expedite the rule. Shortly after the OMB ruling, the House of Representatives voted to kill the rule as part of an appropriations bill, but that version of the bill died and the House action on the proposed rule died with it. A Justice Department spokesperson said in March that “we expect this is something that will ultimately be approved.”

The proposal is now in a comment period before it can become final, but sentiment is running strongly in favor of the idea. The ATF says it received 12,700 comments on the proposed rule as of February, with nearly 9,000 of them supporting the idea. Those in support said it was a tool to stop illegal trafficking, the ATF asserted. Those against said it was a waste of time and a burden for gun shops. A spokesman for the ATF said it appears that there were letter-writing campaigns in support of the proposal.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association has stated that the organization doesn’t believe ATF has the Constitutional authority to pass such a rule, adding that the group will do what it can to block it. A recent statement from the NRA calls the proposed rule a “useless and unauthorized bureaucratic fishing trip.” The head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said he would rather see the rule apply to all states.

UPDATE — 5/6/11: As we reported earlier, the ATF originally said that there were more than 30,000 comments, but later clarified that those included thousands of duplicates.

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