WASHINGTON — As backlash mounts over the government's failed gun-tracing operation, the Department of Justice will begin requiring firearms dealers in California and other border states to alert officials anytime they sell more than two semi-automatic rifles to someone in a five-day period.
The new reporting requirement will help the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to "detect and disrupt" border gun smuggling operations, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said Monday.
Once the ATF distributes its new reporting forms, some 7,000 dealers near the border must report multiple sales of semi-automatic weapons in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Those weapons "are highly sought after by dangerous drug trafficking organizations and frequently recovered at violent crime scenes near the Southwest border," Cole said.
Republican critics quickly denounced the measure, saying it was wrong for the Obama administration to let illegal guns get into the hands of Mexican cartels in the gun-tracing operation, and then require more monitoring of legitimate gun owners in this country.
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Under the program, the ATF permitted illegal straw purchasers to obtain weapons as part of a plan to trace the guns as they flowed to Mexico. U.S. authorities lost track of most of the weapons, and many were later found at crime scenes in Mexico. In January, two turned up at the slaying of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
"It's the height of hypocrisy," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is leading the House investigation into the operation, called it a "political maneuver designed to protect the careers of political appointees at the Justice Department and not public safety."
Cole made no mention of the gun-tracing operation.
Smith said the administration should target the cartels rather than monitor legal gun purchases in the U.S. He also said a recent government report found only 40 percent of the border is under "operational control" of the U.S. Border Patrol. "They simply need to secure the Southwest border, not restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens," he said.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed. He called the new measure a "reckless policy" that "would do nothing to stop the flow of firearms."