All gun shops in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico will be required to alert the federal government about frequent buyers of certain high-powered rifles.

As the Associated Press reports, the new regulation approved by the Obama administration follows a botched federal investigation into major arms-trafficking syndicates along the Arizona border with Mexico.

During the investigation, called Operation Fast and Furious, several agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives say they were ordered by superiors not to intervene when they learned of low-level buyers purchasing large numbers of weapons apparently on behalf of Mexican drug cartels. The aim was to monitor the guns to track down the cartels.

But, in December, two assault rifles purchased in Arizona by a small-time buyer turned up at a shootout that killed Brian Terry, an agent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In recent congressional testimony, ATF agent John Dodson estimated that 1,800 guns in Fast and Furious were unaccounted for and that about two-thirds are probably in Mexico.

Under the new policy, federally licensed gun dealers in the four border states must report when a person buys two or more rifles of a certain type within a five-day period. The requirement applies to purchases of semi-automatic rifles that have detachable magazines and a caliber of greater than .22. They would include, for example, AK-47s.

ATF estimates the policy will generate 18,000 reports a year.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the measure will improve the ATF’s ability to disrupt networks that supply firearms to criminal organizations.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cumming of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, praised the new policy, saying it squares with what ATF agents told Congress — that reporting multiple sales of military-grade assault weapons is crucial to identifying and disrupting gun trafficking by Mexican drug cartels

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, accused the Obama administration of restricting the gun rights of border-state citizens.

ATF estimates the requirement will cover nearly 8,500 gun store operators across the four states, though fewer than 30 percent of those operators are expected to have multiple sales to report.

As The New York Times reports, dealers nationwide already are required to report bulk sales of handguns. The ATF initiated the move to add the newly approved regulation late last year to help detect bulk “straw buyers” who say they are buying weapons for themselves but then transfer them to criminals.

CHRISTINE YOUNG

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