Nick Ut/The Associated Press
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The Department of Justice announced late Monday that gun dealers in states along the Southwest border will now have to report multiple sales of certain semi-automatic rifles, a controversial regulation that has been sought for months by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The rule applies only to semi-automatic rifles greater than .22 caliber and able to accept a detachable magazine, and only to multiple sales of those guns to the same person within a five –day period. Furthermore, the requirement is limited to four border states — Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas. Federal authorities assert these types of guns are favorites of Mexican drug cartels, and say the cartels are buying them in bulk at U.S. gun stores just over the border. A similar law requiring dealers to report multiple handgun sales nationwide has been in effect for years.

“This new reporting measure,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a statement, “will improve the ability of [ATF] to detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce to criminals and criminal organizations.”

ATF had long fought for such a rule. The Justice Department inspector general noted in a report last fall that 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.” Last December the ATF proposed the rule on an emergency basis, but in February the White House’s Office of Management and Budget nixed the effort to expedite the rule. Days after the OMB ruling, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to try to kill the proposed rule.

ATF has for years struggled to stem the flow of U.S. firearms into Mexico, a problem highlighted by controversy over the agency’s failed “Fast and Furious” operation. ATF agents sought to track the flow of guns into Mexico by selling weapons to buyers affiliated with the drug cartels only to later lose track of the firearms. Many have since turned up at Mexican crime scenes, attracting the ire of several members of Congress and complicating America’s relations with its southern neighbor.

Gun control advocates have often claimed ATF was effectively handcuffed in its efforts by weak laws and regulations, a contention broadly supported by the Justice IG report. Nevertheless, the National Rifle Association, the largest gun rights organization in the U.S., was quick to condemn the new rule and promised legal action to oppose the new requirements.

“Transnational criminal enterprises [worth billions] don’t fill out paperwork and are not deterred by paperwork violations,” said Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in a press release. “This is a blatant effort by the Obama administration and ATF to divert focus of Congress and the general public from their gross incompetence in the Fast and Furious scandal. This scheme will unjustly burden law-abiding retailers in border states. It will not affect drug cartels and it won’t prevent violence along our borders.”

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