NRA calls for swift hearings on gun trafficking at border

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is urging Congress to hold "expedited" hearings on federal efforts to stem gun trafficking to Mexico.

The powerful lobby group is hoping the public discussion will help kill a request from federal regulators for more authority to track gun purchases in the southern border states. 

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In a March 9 letter to House and Senate leaders, Chris Cox, the NRA's top lobbyist, argues that law enforcers already "have sufficient laws at their disposal to address this crisis."

"Current and proposed laws that simply affect honest Americans shouldn't be any part of that plan," Cox wrote.

"We are clearly at a critical point on this issue. Without aggressive enforcement of existing laws, the situation on the border will continue to deteriorate, claiming the lives of innocent citizens and law enforcement personnel alike."

The NRA’s request flips the politics of the Second Amendment on its head. In the last Congress, Democrats were afraid to hold any gun hearings for fear of confronting the NRA — a situation that angered liberal members and gun control groups. Now the NRA itself is calling for the public exposure.

The letter was addressed to the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees: Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

In December, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) asked the White House for new authority to require border-state gun dealers to report bulk purchases of assault weapons and other long guns — a mandate that has applied to handguns for more than four decades.

The request came in response to the crescendo of violent crime that's plagued Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón launched a high-profile war on his country's powerful drug cartels. More than 30,000 people have been killed since then. 

Tens of thousands of firearms confiscated from the cartels have been traced to the U.S., where there are no restrictions on the number of guns purchased at one time.

In a setback for the ATF, recent reports indicate that a program designed to fight gun traffickers may have backfired. Operation Fast and Furious put firearms into the hands of known smugglers in order to track them to cartel leaders, according to numerous reports. Hundreds of those firearms have gone missing, the reports indicate, and several have been linked indirectly to the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a December firefight in Arizona. 

The NRA pounced on the program as "wrongheaded, foolish and reportedly deadly."

"It's tragically ironic that while this plan was apparently unraveling, the [ATF] was also seeking White House approval to demand reporting of certain multiple rifle sales," Cox wrote. "That reporting requirement would flood the agency with even more reports of legal transactions, while likely driving criminal traffickers further underground."

ATF is still sifting through public comments on its proposal, which will then move to the White House, where officials will have 30 days to decide whether to grant the new authority.