House Democrats upset with delay on gun proposal along southern border

House Democrats are upset with the White House for delaying new reporting requirements for firearm dealers along the Mexico border.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) is spearheading an effort to require border-state gun dealers to report bulk purchases of assault weapons made over short windows of time — an emergency measure requested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in December. 

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On Friday, the Obama administration rejected the ATF’s request to institute that change quickly, arguing that expediting the proposal would deny the public a fair shot to weigh in. But gun reformers on and off Capitol Hill say the crescendo of violent crime along the Mexican border in recent years — and reports that thousands of the crime guns originate as legal purchases in the United States — demand a more urgent response from the White House.

“The level of violence that’s happening in Mexico is unacceptable, and it’s increased exponentially,” Chu said Monday in a phone interview with The Hill. “Time is of the essence.” 

The California Democrat is drafting a letter urging the White House to reconsider the delay in the ATF’s request. It’s unclear how much support the letter will receive on its way to the president; a similar letter penned in support of the initial ATF proposal was endorsed by 12 Democrats, including Chu and Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.).

The gun lobby strongly opposes the proposal.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Mexican drug violence since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown against the country’s powerful cartels. Thousands of the guns used by those cartels have been traced to gun dealers in the United States, according to reports from the ATF and gun-control advocates. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an advocacy group, reported in September that 90 percent of the guns confiscated from the cartels originated in the U.S.

The ATF in December called the situation an emergency and requested new authority to require licensed gun dealers in the four southwest border states to report sales of two or more assault weapons to the same buyer within five workdays. 

The proposal applies only to dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Affected guns must be semiautomatic, must carry ammunition larger than .22-caliber, and must feature a detachable ammunition clip — characteristics favored by the Mexican drug cartels. 

ATF officials initially asked for White House approval by Jan. 5. They didn’t get it. 

Meg Reilly, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration decided the proposal “should move forward through the standard review process to provide adequate time for the public to weigh in.” 

“Our objective is to ensure that any information collection in this area is as informed and effective as possible — and public comment is critical to that outcome,” Reilly said Monday in an e-mail.

The delay has angered gun-reform advocates, who have been disappointed in the Obama administration’s record on the prickly issue. 

“These guns are fueling violence that has claimed more than 30,000 lives and putting our law enforcement officers at risk,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement blasting the administration for the delay. “ATF recognizes the emergency, but we need the White House to give the agency the support it needs to do its job effectively.”

With Republicans controlling the House, even the most ardent gun reformers aren’t optimistic that new firearm restrictions can pass through the 112th Congress. With that in mind, Mayors Against Illegal Guns is pushing dozens of regulatory changes it says the Obama administration can make without new legislation. 

The ATF reporting requirement was among those proposals.