TOPICS > Politics

Gun Dealers in Border States Face New Reporting Requirements

July 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an effort to crackdown on multiple purchases of semi-automatic weapons along the U.S.-Mexico border the Justice Department announced new reporting requirements for gun dealers in four states on Thursday. Gwen Ifill reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, from cyber-security to securing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gwen Ifill looks at new reporting requirements for gun dealers.

GWEN IFILL: In an effort to stem illegal trafficking of firearms across the border with Mexico, the Justice Department has announced new rules on gun sales in four Southwestern states. Gun store owners in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas will be required to report anyone who buys two or more semiautomatic weapons within a five-day period.

It’s the Obama administration’s first gun control initiative. And it’s been greeted with mixed reaction.

Evan Perez of The Wall Street Journal has been following the story, and he joins us now.

It seems, Evan, like a minor change on the surface, but there’s been a lot of talk about it.

EVAN PEREZ, The Wall Street Journal: Right.

And it’s something that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms has wanted to do for many years. However, they have just never been able to get it — there’s a lot of – a lot of problems with getting some of this through Congress. So what they have decided to do is make this essentially a rule. And they’re going to send out letters in the next few weeks to about 8,500 gun shops along the border states that you mentioned to essentially create a reporting requirement, so they can have some paperwork to find out when someone comes in and buys, say, five, 10 AK-47-style rifles, which, you know, are the type of weapons that the drug cartels in Mexico are using to carry out some of the violence.

GWEN IFILL: Now, describe specifically what kinds of weapons we’re talking about. You say AK-47-style.

EVAN PEREZ: Right. They’re the — they’re the — they’re mostly like Romanian-type — Romanian-made AK-47-style weapons. They are semiautomatic. They’re very potent. And, essentially, they are the favorites of the cartels in Mexico.

GWEN IFILL: Is this a big problem? Is there a huge — a huge trafficking in these kinds of guns across the border?

EVAN PEREZ: There is, as far as we can tell. The Mexican government says, you know, there’s about 80 percent of the firearms that they have confiscated — and they have put it at, you know, 70,000 in recent years — you know, has — comes from the United States.

It’s hard to get really hard figures on this. The GAO did a report saying there were about 20,000 between 2004-2008. And so we know that, in Mexico, it’s very hard to buy firearms of any kind. Mexican law doesn’t allow it. In the U.S., it’s very easy to do that.

And so it goes to show, you know, that where you have a market, a market, a ready market and a place where it is very easy to get firearms, that you would have this kind of trade.

GWEN IFILL: No, there was this — this project called the Fast and Furious, which has kind of famously, I shouldn’t say blew up for the government, but didn’t turn out the way it was intended.

And I wonder whether this new rule was intended to speak to that. Was there a connection? And explain what it is, first of all.

EVAN PEREZ: Well, Fast and Furious was an investigation in the ATF office in Phoenix. And it was intended to monitor, but not stop certain sales of firearms to people who were suspected to be buying weapons on behalf of smugglers, who would then send it over to Mexico for — to sell to the cartels.

There is a lot of controversy over it because, essentially, you have people who were suspicious and the ATF was standing by and allowing hundreds of sales to be — to pursue — to continue without stopping them. And this has obviously now become controversial. It’s become the focus of investigations by members of Congress.

Now, the rule that we’re talking about, the requirement for reporting of long gun sales, this was contemplated well before the ATF operation. However, because it comes at about the same time, there’s a lot of suspicion by — on behalf of people that — and, you know, that essentially this was ATF’s way to make sure this rule goes forward and to provide an excuse for adding additional regulation on Second Amendment rights.

GWEN IFILL: It was set out to prove there was a problem, but it didn’t necessarily do that because some of these guns walked away.

EVAN PEREZ: A lot of these firearms ended up in crime scenes in Mexico. The ATF didn’t have the means to track them. And, therefore, they were used in crimes. And they’re — and they will be turning up for a decade.

GWEN IFILL: This is one of these new government rules that seems to have made nobody happy on either side of this very enduring gun divide that we have in this country, gun policy divide.

EVAN PEREZ: Right. Right.

GWEN IFILL: Why wouldn’t the gun control advocates be happy about this?

EVAN PEREZ: Well, they’re — they’re pleased that the ATF is doing something. The Obama administration has been very reluctant to wade into gun control issues, for various reasons, politics mostly. There’s a lot of pro-gun Democrats in Congress that were elected in 2006. They were trying to preserve some of those folks. A lot of them lost in 2010.

You know, the gun control groups, I think, want more robust regulation. They want more things like, for example, reinstituting the ban on assault weapons, which was something from the Clinton administration and which has expired. That’s not likely to happen, given the Congress that we have.

GWEN IFILL: And the National Rifle Association is on the other side theoretically.

EVAN PEREZ: Correct. And they plan to sue. The minute the ATF sends out these letters, which will, again, happen in the next couple of weeks, we expect that the first letters will start arriving in gun shops. And the NRA will go to court and challenge this.

They say that, essentially, the ATF doesn’t have the power, doesn’t have the legal right to do this.

GWEN IFILL: Only these four states affected by this rule.

If I live in Minnesota and I want to go get a .22-caliber long rifle that has a detachable magazine, I can still do that without it being tracked. I can buy five or more anyplace else.

EVAN PEREZ: You can buy 40, and nobody will make a requirement. A lot of gun shops do report suspicious purchases no matter what.


EVAN PEREZ: Anyway. A lot of them, because they know that — they’re afraid that something like this could end up at a crime scene, and they don’t want to be blamed. They do it anyway. But they won’t be required to.

At one point, this was contemplated to be much wider. And because of concerns inside the administration, they limited it only to — for political reasons, they thought this would be more palatable to limit it only to four states.

GWEN IFILL: Well, it will be interesting to see if even that survives.

Evan Perez of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

EVAN PEREZ: Thank you.