When California Senator Dianne Feinstein's anti-gun legislation went down in flames last year, those working in the firearms industry knew she'd eventually be back with another proposal cracking down on semi-automatic rifles, or what she calls "assault weapons."
Feinstein is calling on fellow Senators to sign a letter to President Obama asking him to issue an executive order banning the import of "assault or military weapons" and firearms not "generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." The executive order would be enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Here is the list of Feinstein's requests:
-Prohibit importation of all semi-automatic rifles that can accept, or be readily converted to accept, a large capacity ammunition magazine of more than 10 rounds, regardless of the military pedigree of the firearm or the configuration of the firearm's magazine well;
-Prohibit semi-automatic rifles with fixed magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds;
-Prohibit the importation of the frame or receiver of any prohibited rifle, regardless of whether it is incorporated into a fully manufactured firearm.
-Prohibit the practice of importing assault rifles in parts and then constructing the rifles once they are in the United States by adding the requisite number of American-made parts;
-Prohibit the use of a "thumbhole" stock as a means to avoid classification of a rifle as an assault rifle; and
-Prohibit the importation of assault pistols, in addition to assault rifles."
First, what is the world is an "assault pistol?" Notice how the list is almost completely based on characteristics of firearms, not functionality. Further, the characteristics she is targeting are very basic (firearms parts, 10-round capacity, etc.)
The key here is "sporting," something ATF can define as nearly anything thanks to an extremely broad and loose definition. Back in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton issued an order just like the one Feinstein is calling for. Here's a flashback from the Los Angeles Times:
The Clinton administration on Friday imposed an immediate ban on the importation of semiautomatic assault-type weapons until the government decides whether they have been modified to skirt U.S. restrictions on foreign-made firearms that are not suitable for "sporting purposes."
The order, signed by President Clinton, calls for the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to suspend for a maximum of 120 days the importation of up to 600,000 military-style weapons that have already been approved for entry into the country.
The directive also orders the Treasury Department to temporarily suspend acting on pending requests for the importation of more than 1 million additional modified semiautomatic assault weapons, according to a copy of the order obtained by The Times.
When Clinton imposed the ban, firearms dealerships and companies across the country lost millions in merchandise that had already been ordered, paid for and halfway shipped when the ban was put into place, leaving orders to rot on ships and in warehouses overseas.
I warned about the possibility of President Obama doing the same in the April 2013 issue of Townhall Magazine.
Is international trade really up for grabs when it comes to new gun control measures? Absolutely. In fact, many expected President Obama to take advantage of this readily available power grab—the banning of imports—a long time ago.
“They don’t even have to do anything by legislation to have an impact on the industry because the powers they have … through two [existing] laws: [the] Gun Control Act and Arms Export Control Act,” Reeves says. “Congress gave ATF enormous power in what they can allow and disallow for imports.”
The executive branch has power in this area for two main reasons. Current law gives ATF unfettered justification or power to decide what is and what is not “sporting.” The United States only allows the import of firearms that meet this definition and, therefore, ATF has unrestricted power over what’s importable or not.
“I don’t think it’s widely appreciated just how internationally connected the U.S. firearms sector is,” Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Ted Bromund, Ph.D., tells Townhall.
Firearms imports are approximately 35 percent of the U.S. firearms market, according to the ATF and United States International Trade Commission. About 5.5 million are manufactured each year in the U.S., with approximately 250,000 being exported by the U.S. while 3.5 million additional firearms are imported from other countries, totaling 9 million new firearms in the U.S. commercial market each year.
“There are a lot of countries … [from which] the U.S. imports at least 10,000 firearms a year. Slightly over half of them are handguns and the remainder being rifles and shotguns,” Bromund says. “What you see is that this is … worldwide traffic directed to the United States.”
SpringField Armory, for example, is located in Croatia, and one of the company’s most popular pistols, the Spring- Field XD semi-automatic handgun, is manufactured there. Beretta Italy manufactures shotguns and exports them to the United States.
Brazil serves as the largest foreign commercial exporter to the United States and exported 846,619 firearms in 2011. Austria was second, coming in at 522,638, according to ATF. Germany, Belgium, Russia, Turkey, Canada, Romania, Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, Italy and Croatia and many others all depend on purchases from the United States.
This post has been updated.