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Assault Gun Ban Made Permanent : U.S. Embargoes 43 Military-Style Weapons, Including AK-47s and Uzis

July 09, 1989|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The vast majority of assault weapons barred from importation since spring will be banned permanently from the United States, the government announced Friday.

The ban imposed on 43 styles of semiautomatic weapons--including the popular Chinese-made AK-47 and Israeli-made Uzi carbine--followed a four-month study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on whether the weapons met the standards imposed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which barred importation of weapons that are not used for legitimate sporting purposes.

"The study was undertaken because of the dramatic increase in the number of these weapons being imported and police reports of their use in violent crime," said Stephen E. Higgins, ATF director.

7 Permitted

While the 43 were banned permanently, another seven whose imports had been suspended since early spring will be available for import again as a result of the study. Those include six .22-rimfire caliber rifles and a gun called the Valmet Hunter, which had been considered an AK-47 type of weapon during the suspension.

The ATF, which studied the marketing and use of the weapons, said the models banned were not being used for sporting purposes. Such weapons were identified officially Friday as "semiautomatic assault rifles."

The ATF annually traces 35,000 to 40,000 guns used in crimes, and about 10% of them are semiautomatic assault weapons, Higgins said. He estimated that slightly more than half of them were domestic makes that are not subject to ATF control.

"We're not saying that it (the assault weapon importation ban) will solve the basic problem" of crime, Higgins said, adding, "Their use in crime is probably disproportionately high compared with the number that are here."

Folding Stock

Holding aloft one of the banned weapons--an Israeli-made Galil rifle--Higgins pointed out some of the accouterments that led to its prohibition: a folding stock, a night sight, a flash suppressor on the end that could serve as a grenade launcher, its ability to accept a bayonet lug, a pistol grip and a large magazine.

In the future, he said, weapons with several of these features probably also would be subject to an import ban.

Higgins estimated that the Customs Service has seized about 20,000 of the weapons and that those will not be allowed into the country unless purchased by law enforcement agencies. Asked whether the government will pay damages to importers, Higgins said, "That's something the court would decide."

Three importers already have sued the government over the suspension, and although a U.S. District Court has upheld the government in one of the cases, Higgins said the ATF would accept comments on the permanent ban from any importers for 30 days. The final regulations would be issued "very quickly" after that, he said.

Asked why the ATF previously had allowed imports of the now-banned weapons, Higgins said the committee set up after the 1968 law was passed to determine whether guns qualified for import had "concentrated primarily, almost exclusive, on handguns." It was not until the number of assault weapons being imported increased dramatically that the ATF focused on them, he said.

Action Lauded

The action Friday was lauded by gun control advocates, but John M. Snyder, spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said it "shows the undependability of government, because originally, the ATF had certified that these rifles could be imported because they are suitable for sporting purposes.

"I think it also tends to further undermine whatever credibility President Bush has left with the firearms-owning community in the United States," Snyder said.

Bush, a hunter and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Assn., came into office opposing any ban on assault weapons despite an outcry over their increasing popularity among drug gangs and a heightened public concern triggered by the January schoolyard slayings of five children in Stockton, Calif., by a man wielding an AK-47.

However, Bush asked William J. Bennett, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to advise him on what to do about the weapons. In March, at Bennett's urging, Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady suspended the importation of many of the weapons, and Bush expanded the list the next month.

U.S. Guns Not Affected

The ATF, which has the power to control imports, does not regulate domestic manufacture of weapons, so similar weapons made in the United States would not be affected by the action. Several bills pending in Congress would control or eliminate many of the U.S.-made assault weapons.

The ATF has estimated that domestic models account for 75% of the 3 million semiautomatic rifles now owned by Americans. Colt Industries Inc. suspended sales of its AR-15, the most popular of the domestic assault semiautomatic rifles, in March.

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