By Megan R. Wilson - 05/31/13 06:29 PM EDT
An appeals court on Friday upheld a gun-records requirement from the Obama administration that is intended to curb violence along the border with Mexico.
The lawsuit challenged a requirement from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that gun shops in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona notify the government after selling two or more semi-automatic weapons to a single individual with a five-day period.
A sport-shooting trade group and two southwestern gun retailers said the rules were overly burdensome and came dangerously close to creating a national gun registry, which Congress prohibited under the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986.
Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson rejected those arguments in her ruling.
“When it passed FOPA, Congress clearly envisioned some sort of collection of firearms records, so long as it was incidental to some other statutory function specifically delegated to ATF,” she wrote in the decision for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“The July 2011 demand letter’s conditions … are not being used to require additional information from [the gun stores],” she said, “but instead limit the scope of the information demanded.”
The appeals court also dismissed the industry’s claims that keeping track of the sales is too burdensome.
“The fact that [a federally licensed weapons dealer] chooses to keep his records in alphabetical or numerical order does not mean that the [dealer] can complain if his choice may not always be the least burdensome,” Henderson said. “Moreover, there is nothing preventing a [dealer] from maintaining records in a less burdensome (in this case, chronological) manner.”
Licensed gun shops are required under the law to keep the records of all gun purchases on site — including personal information on the buyer and the firearm.
Retailers are already required to send reports to the ATF when two or more “pistols, or revolvers, or any combination of pistols and revolvers” are sold to the same buyer within five business days. In 2011, the bureau expanded that requirement to semi-automatic weapons in the four border states.
The ATF made the order as drug violence surged along the Mexico border and the number of U.S.-sourced guns found in the country escalated.
From 2007 to 2011, the bureau recovered 68,000 guns from Mexico that could be traced back to the United States – or nearly 69 percent of all guns recovered from Mexico during that time period. Agency records show Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California are the most common U.S. sources of those guns.
The trade group in the case, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), questioned whether it’s feasible to identify and track gun sales based on the model and manufacturer, as the ATF requires. That argument was also shot down by the court.
“To argue, as NSSF does, that [a federally licensed weapons retailer] — who purchases and sells firearms for a living — would price and sell rifles without knowing its type of action and ammunition feeding source blinks reality,” Henderson wrote.