By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
Late last year, a new federal initiative was proposed that would require licensed firearm dealers in Texas - as well as New Mexico, Arizona and California - to report multiple sales of certain semi-automatic rifles.
Pitched as a trial program by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the measure was scheduled to take effect in January under an emergency request procedure aimed at stemming the flow of American "long guns" into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
The plan has since been delayed as a review process takes place by the Office of Management and Budget. In the meantime, however, gun-rights advocates like the National Rifle Association are stepping up opposition, saying the ATF's initiative would only hamstring legitimate businesses.
Around Bell County and surrounding areas, a number of gun shop owners said this week they are strongly opposed to the ATF's proposal.
Similar to the existing law regarding handguns, the new law would require that sales of two or more semiautomatic rifles to the same individual within a five-day span be reported. Only those guns that have a semiautomatic action, a caliber greater than .22 and the ability to accept a detachable magazine would be included.
J. Sandvold, owner of J's Gun Shop in Lampasas, said the reporting of handgun sales is already cumbersome enough.
"It would just be more paperwork we have to keep and file," Sandvold said. "It would be more hassle that doesn't do anything. I know some guns go to Mexico, but I don't think it's as much as they are trying to make us think."
Just east of the Bell County line in Cameron, the owner of Aaron's Gunshop agreed.
"You're bothering law-abiding citizens," Matt Betros said. "I say leave them alone. The criminals are not coming through a gun shop to get a gun. They're getting them somewhere on the black market. All they (ATF) would be doing is harassing law-abiding citizens."
Texas supplies most guns to Mexico
Whether the ATF's initiative comes to fruition will not be known until the completion of the public comment period and review process by the OMB. At issue in the review is whether the ATF's plan is compliant with provisions set out under the federal Paperwork Reduction Act.
Franceska Perot, a spokesman for the ATF's Houston division, said Wednesday the OMB's position should be clearer by the middle of March. Perot went on to note that more guns recovered in Mexican crimes are traced to having been sold in Texas than any other state.
"The reporting requirement, just like the process we use in our efforts against illegal handgun trafficking, is a critical investigative tool that allows ATF to proactively disrupt illegal firearms trafficking before violent crimes are committed," Perot said in a statement. "OMB has determined that the ATF proposal should follow the standard process of notice and comment under the Paperwork Reduction Act."
Perot said that the latest figures on traced U.S. weapons involved in Mexican crimes will not be known until later this spring.
According to a report released last September from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Texas has been the top source of U.S. weapons found at crime scenes across the border since at least 2006. During that year, 491 gun crimes in Mexico involved weapons traced to sellers in Texas. By 2008, the number had jumped to 3,126 followed by 2,076 in 2009, according to the report.
But despite such statistics, gun-rights supporters insist the ATF's proposed law is the wrong approach.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has long been a strong voice for the Second Amendment, is one example. Asked about the issue this week, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger called ATF's initiative "a flawed strategy and concept."
"The federal government should be focused instead on securing the border and preventing the trafficking of guns and people in the first place," Cesinger said. "The bottom line is that this is a trafficking problem and the way to immediately handle that is to secure the border and shut the routes down and not unfairly target gun sellers."
Contact Andy Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.