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Dem bill aims to curb gun trafficking

House legislation floated this week would lend federal regulators more tools to fight the illegal trafficking of firearms.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), the proposal aims to quash the illegal gun market by granting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) new powers to trace crime guns.

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Quigley said his proposal is a "common-sense" way to help law enforcers "close the loopholes that allow criminals to buy and traffic guns."

"When illegal guns flood our streets, precious lives are lost and communities are destroyed,” he said in a statement.

The debate over gun reform drew national headlines this year after a January shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., left six people dead and another 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). The tragedy led gun-control advocates on Capitol Hill to introduce a series of reform bills — none of which are expected to move through the GOP-controlled House.

Giffords, meanwhile, is recovering at a rehab facility in Texas.

Announced Wednesday — the 12th anniversary of the deadly shooting rampage at Columbine High School near Denver — Quigley's bill proposes three significant changes to current firearm laws.

First, it would require gun manufacturers to stamp a second, hidden serial number onto every new gun in order to prevent criminal tampering that makes guns untraceable. Second, it would require firearm dealers to maintain background-check records on gun buyers for 60 days, rather than destroying them after 24 hours, as current law dictates. And third, it would force gun dealers to inventory their stock and report all lost and stolen guns to the ATF.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the changes would "help level the playing field in the fight against illegal guns and gunmen who have no regard for life."

Quigley's bill arrives as the ATF is proposing separate steps to rein in gun trafficking to Mexico, where drug-fueled gun violence has killed more than 30,000 people in the last five years. The ATF proposal would require border-state gun dealers to report bulk purchases of assault weapons and other long guns — a mandate that's been applied to handguns for more than four decades.

Citing the severity of the Mexican gun violence, the ATF in December asked the White House to fast-track the new reporting requirement — a request the administration denied. The Office of Budget and Management is expected to reach a determination on the ATF request shortly.

Meanwhile, House conservatives are eying the ATF proposal warily. In February, House Republicans passed legislation blocking the ATF's proposed reporting requirement — an amendment to the GOP's proposal to cut $61 billion in federal spending this year. The bill was shot down by the Senate, and more recently, Democrats stripped the ATF language from the final 2011 spending bill enacted last week.