HOUSTON The White House is pressing ahead with rules meant to slow the flow of weapons to Mexico, a high-ranking U.S. official said on Wednesday, despite fears among gun control advocates that the Obama administration may be backing away from the plan.
In an attempt to curb gun running to Mexico, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in December it would tighten reporting requirements for dealers in several southwest states on sales of multiple semi-automatic weapons.
"I truly believe that everyone in the administration supports this and I'm pretty confident that we'll get it done," said William Hoover, acting deputy director of ATF, in an interview.
More than 34,000 people have been killed in raging drug violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006 and vowed to crush the powerful cartels.
Mexico has put so many restrictions on gun ownership that its drug cartels obtain many of their guns in the United States and ship them illegally back to Mexico.
The ATF made an emergency request for the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve the new rules, which are opposed by the powerful gun lobby.
The OMB concluded the request did not qualify for emergency consideration, which would have allowed it to approve the new rules in January, and it could be months before the OMB acts, he said.
The ATF measure would require around 8,500 gun dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas to report sales of two or more semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines to the same person within a five-day period.
The powerful National Rifle Association, which lobbies for gun rights, has accused the Obama administration of using Mexican cartel violence as a pretext to impose registration on gun sales.
"This is just a shallow excuse to engage in a sweeping firearms registration scheme," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said last year on the group's website.
Hoover denied that the ATF is seeking to create a national registry, and said records would be kept for 24 months and then destroyed if not acted on by investigators.
"These types of firearms are moving illegally to Mexico and killing people. We want to stop it," Hoover said.
On Tuesday, U.S. customs agents in Texas seized a tripod-mounted .30 caliber Browning machine gun on the back seat of a sport utility vehicle headed into Mexico.
U.S. officials say an "iron river" of firearms flowing south to the drug cartels includes high-powered Kalashnikov and AR-15 rifles toted by cartel hitmen across Mexico, and decorative .38 caliber pistols popular with drug kingpins.
Most gun ownership is banned in Mexico, and carrying guns
across the U.S.-Mexico border is illegal.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)