Stemming the Arms Flow: Will Obama Face Down the NRA?

This coming Sunday—or so the U.S. Justice Department has ordered—gun dealers in the four U.S. states that border on Mexico will be required to report sales of two or more high-powered rifles to the same person within any five-day period. The idea is to stem the flow of military-style weapons from the United States to Mexico, where such weapons have been implicated in some of the most atrocious excesses of the crime wars, and cannot be legally sold to private individuals. The National Rifle Association (NRA), of course, is suing to block the order.

Fred Rosen 8/9/2011

This coming Sunday—or so the U.S. Justice Department has ordered—gun dealers in the four U.S. states that border on Mexico will be required to report sales of two or more high-powered rifles to the same person within any five-day period. The reporting requirement covers semi-automatic weapons that are able to accept a detachable magazine and ammunition larger than .22 caliber. 260NRA's “Hollywood Guns” exhibit (credit: Joe Loong)The idea is to stem the flow of military-style weapons from the four U.S. border states—Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California—to Mexico, where such weapons have been implicated in some of the most atrocious excesses of the crime wars, and cannot be legally sold to private individuals.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), of course, is suing to block the order, arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—the federal agency charged with enforcing the order—has been authorized by Congress to require reporting such information only for handgun and revolver sales, not for semi-automatic rifles purchases. The NRA says that the new order would “unfairly burden the gun dealers,” that it is really a sly maneuver meant to bring us closer to total gun control and the loss of our second-amendment rights, and, besides, that most of the assault weapons used by Mexican narcos are imported from Central America, not the United States.

“NRA has always viewed this as a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to pursue their gun control agenda through back-door rule-making, and the NRA will fight them every step of the way,” said the groups vice president Wayne Lapierre. On August 3, two Arizona gun dealers funded by the NRA, filed a lawsuit to block the new regulations.

Well, gun running being the underground activity that it is, nobody knows for sure what percentage of Mexico’s assault weapons come from the United States. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón thinks the number is about 85%, and has called for a renewal of the U.S. assault weapon ban that expired in 2005, more or less conterminous with the dramatic rise of organized violence in Mexico.

"We will vigorously oppose [the NRA’s] lawsuit," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters. But given the lobbying power of the NRA and the apparent flexibility of President Obama’s backbone, it is quite possible that the new gun-sale regulations will never see the light of day. We will soon see.

Meanwhile, a campaign asking for signatures is demanding that Obama take three steps to restrict illegal arms trafficking to Mexico:

First: Immediately detain and prohibit the importation of assault weapons to the United States, because many of them are sent as contraband to Mexico.

Second: Order dealers to report to the ATF the sale of multiple assault rifles to the same person over a period of five days.

Third: Increase the regulatory capacity of the ATF in those regions of the United States that supply the weapons contraband to Mexico, especially in border states.

The campaign is sponsored by a number of Mexican civic groups including Alianza Cívica, Propuesta Cívica, Cencos, and Evolución Mexicana, along with several progressive U.S. NGOs including Global Exchange and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“With these additional measures,” says the campaign document prepared by WOLA, “the United States could demonstrate the alliance with Mexico that it professes so much and could show its solidarity to the thousands of families that have been victims of brutal firearm violence in Mexico and the United States.”

Petitioning Obama from the progressive side of the room may be like praying for rain in the desert but… if you’d like to sign, here’s the petition.

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