The new reporting requirement will help the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "detect and disrupt" border gun-smuggling operations, Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole said Monday.
Once the ATF distributes its new reporting forms, about 7,000 dealers near the border must report multiple sales of semiautomatic weapons in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Such 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 Operation Fast and Furious, and then require more monitoring of legitimate gun owners in the U.S. 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.
"It's the height of hypocrisy," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who is leading the House investigation into Fast and Furious, 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 Fast and Furious. U.S. authorities lost track of most of the weapons, and many were later found at crime scenes in Mexico. In December, two turned up at the slaying of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
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 that only 40% of the border is under "operational control" of the Border Patrol.
"They simply need to secure the Southwest border, not restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens," he said.
Sen. Charles E. 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."