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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday will seek another round of comments on its controversial proposal to require gun dealers in four states on the U.S.-Mexico border to report the sale of multiple rifles.
In a bid to curb the flow of guns into Mexico, where drug cartels have waged deadly wars to protect their business, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has sought to tighten reporting requirements in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California.
Under the proposal, dealers would have to report sales of two or more rifles to the same person at one time or during any five business days if the rifles are semi-automatic, with a caliber greater than .22 and detachable magazines.
The proposal will be published in the government's Federal Register on Friday seeking comments for 30 days, according to a copy obtained by Reuters on Thursday.
It was first published in December and had a 60-day comment period that garnered almost 13,000 responses. About 30 percent opposed the reporting requirement and 70 percent favored it, ATF said.
The second round of comment is typical for new regulations, according to ATF, and no substantive changes were made. After reviewing the new comments submitted, the proposal could be implemented or altered.
The proposed requirement has drawn intense criticism from the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, which has accused the Obama administration of using the violence in Mexico as a pretext to try to clamp down on gun sales.
ATF has denied such an effort, saying the records would be stored for two years and then disposed of if not used by investigators.
The issue of gun control will also likely be a theme during the 2012 presidential campaign. President Barack Obama last month sought to bring together differing sides to discuss ways to make gun laws more effective, a call the NRA has rejected.
An NRA spokesman said the recent controversy over an ATF undercover operation that may have allowed weapons to be sold to the drug cartels undermined the agency's credibility and would reverse support for the reporting demand.
"Going forth with this program while they were selling guns to known drug cartel members and asking shops to do so I think calls their credibility into question," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
Gun ownership in Mexico is prohibited and so the drug cartels try to get many of their weapons from the United States.
Approximately 8,500 gun dealers would be subject to the reporting requirements if adopted. About 36,000 reports of multiple hand gun sales were made from the four border states in fiscal 2010, according to the proposal.
ATF estimates there will be about 18,000 reports of multiple rifle sales from California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
U.S. officials have been increasingly concerned about guns flowing over the border into Mexico after one U.S. immigration agent was shot dead and another was wounded by suspected drug cartel members on a highway in Mexico in February.
Tens of thousands of Mexicans have died in the raging drug violence since late 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and vowed to crush the cartels.
Editing by Jerry Norton