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Illegal trade across the U.S.-Mexican border is two-way commerce. Mexican criminals smuggle drugs and illegal immigrants into the United States, and American criminals run guns to Mexican drug cartels. It's a deadly embrace for both countries.

In an effort to choke the illegal arms trade, federal authorities in the United States have announced a new reporting rule for multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles above .22 caliber in the Southwest border states. The rule requires federally licensed firearms dealers, including gun and pawn shops, to file same-day reports of multiple sales with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It applies when one person buys two or more high-powered, semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines in a five-day period. The data will be analyzed by officers to detect and pursue gun traffickers.

This made so much sense that our first question was why the ATF hasn't done it before. A similar regulation has applied to handguns since 1975.

The answer is that when Congress wrote the federal Gun Control Act, which allows such reporting requirements, the criminal trafficking of handguns, not rifles, was the major concern in the United States. Today in Mexico, the AR-15 rifle and its progeny are the weapons of choice of drug cartels, and many of these guns are supplied through illicit sales from the United States.

Our second thought when we heard of the new rule was that it should apply throughout the United States, not just in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Gun trafficking could originate with straw sales in Utah or elsewhere just as easily as it could in the border states, and transport to Mexico would probably be only a minor inconvenience compared to sales closer to the border.

Gun-rights extremists will object to the new rule, but their grounds will be weak. The homeowner can hardly argue with a straight face that he needs to purchase more than one rifle in a five-day period for self-defense. Unless you're trying to arm a firing squad, there's no sensible argument to be made for bulk purchases.

Admittedly, the ATF shot its own reputation in the foot when whistleblowers revealed that higher-ups in the agency hobbled its Operation Fast and Furious, calling a halt to pursuit of suspected straw buyers of guns for no apparent reason. Two guns in question turned up where a federal customs agent was killed. That investigation continues.

But that mess is no reason to disarm a sensible new rule that should help the agency detect and stop gun-runners.