The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced it was seeking emergency authority to require 8,000 gun dealers near the border to report multiple purchases by any individual of high-firepower semiautomatic rifles that use a detachable magazine.
The bureau asked the Office of Management and Budget, which must sign off on the plan, to do so by Jan. 5. That date has come and gone without a decision.
The death toll in Mexico’s drug wars is staggering — more than 30,000 people killed as of last year. The role of American-purchased guns in that carnage is also undeniable. In the past four years, more than 60,000 guns connected to crimes in Mexico have been tracked back to American gun dealers. About three-quarters of those weapons originated from gun shops in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California, the four states covered by the A.T.F. plan.
Administration officials insist that approval will be coming soon, and we hope that is the case. But the delay is worrying. (Before the A.T.F. spoke up, the idea had languished at the Justice Department for months.)
The gun lobby and some vocal allies on Capitol Hill have denounced the proposal, claiming that this reasonable effort to track down gun traffickers threatens Americans’ gun rights and exceeds the A.T.F.’s mandate. The bureau’s authority to demand information from a limited group of dealers shown to present elevated risks of crime has been upheld by courts in other cases.
The NY Times has editorialized about cracking down on gun traffic with some frequency over the last few years. That's admirable, and Obama administration's unwillingness to pursue anything that might offend the gun lobby is disappointing and worthy of criticism. But the paper should recognize that reducing American gun traffic isn't going to revolutionize Mexican security. With an industry worth between $8 and $25 billion, finding deadly weapons won't be a problem for Mexican gangsters, regardless of the porousness of the American border. (As I've said before, unleashing the ATF more and other policy changes of the same mindset can help around the margins in Mexico, mostly by raising the price of guns, which would consequently make it harder for the smaller gangs to kill as many people. But that would be a long-term process of limited effect.)
At the same time, to the best of my knowledge and searching capabilities, the Times editorial voice has for years ignored legalization of marijuana (though Nicholas Kristof wrote in favor of legalization a few months ago), despite the much greater potential benefit of such a move for Mexican security. It is inconsistent to bemoan the tens of thousands of Mexican deaths in the context calling for stricter application of gun laws on a near-monthly basis, while refusing to apply the same logic in drug policy. But if you're only going to focus on one of the two, legalization of marijuana, an utterly sensible idea which could use more respectable, establishmentarian institutions like the NY Times calling for it, should be the issue. The Times has it backwards.