WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association (NRA) and another gun group filed lawsuits Wednesday challenging requirements that weapons dealers along the U.S. border with Mexico report multiple sales of semiautomatic rifles, escalating the fight with the Obama administration.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives last month ordered more than 8,000 gun dealers in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California to report such sales to try to stem the "iron river" of guns flowing to the violent Mexican drug cartels.
Dealers are required to report sales of two or more rifles to the same person at one time or during any five business days for semiautomatic weapons greater than .22 caliber and with the ability to accept a detachable magazine.
The NRA, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, filed its suit in support of two Arizona gun dealers, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry, filed a similar suit.
The suits argue that Congress did not authorize the ATF to require reporting such information about semiautomatic rifles purchases; rather, it was allowed to require reporting only about handgun and revolver sales, according to copies of the lawsuits.
"At the time Congress authorized the reporting of multiple sales of handguns, it could have required it for the sale of long guns, but it did not," said Lawrence Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The gun dealers and groups want the courts to block the ATF from imposing the requirements, which begin by Aug. 14, they said. Failure to comply can result in losing their licenses to sell firearms.
About 8,500 gun dealers would be subject to the reporting requirement. Some 36,000 reports of multiple handgun sales were made from the four border states in fiscal 2010, according to ATF.
Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that the regulations are legal and necessary to halt guns going to the drug cartels.
"We will vigorously oppose that lawsuit," Holder said. "We think that the acts that we have taken (are) consistent with the law and that the measures that we are proposing are appropriate ones to stop the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico."
The reporting requirement is one prong of the Obama administration's effort to stop gun trafficking from the border states to Mexico violence has killed tens of thousands since 2006.
One ATF operation to track guns going to Mexico from Arizona has become a full-blown scandal for the Obama administration because agents said they were not allowed to follow guns beyond the initial purchaser. The ATF has acknowledged that it has lost track of many of the 2,000 guns it allowed to go to Mexican cartells in "Operation Fast and Furious" in hopes of pinpointing the buyers.
As a result, dozens of the weapons have shown up at crime scenes in Mexico, including one that killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
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