On Wednesday, 82 members of the United States House of Representatives sent President Barack Obama a letter asking him to have the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) expand its ban on the importation of semi-automatic firearms and parts for such firearms (see related story).
As reported by the Washington Times on Thursday, “The letter asks that the administration ban the import of high-capacity weapons (sic), as well the frame or receiver of military-style weapons and the practice of importing the guns in parts and then assembling them in the country, among other items.”
While obviously a desperate attempt to cast attention away from the administration’s many problems, the request for an expanded firearm importation ban should not be taken lightly. Severe, politically-driven firearm importation restrictions have been imposed several times over the last 25 years without the consent of Congress, and President Obama has said that he intends to impose gun control with or without Congress’ consent during the remainder of his time in office.
In this instance, Obama’s authority to restrict firearm importation rests in Title 18, Section 925(d)(3) of the U.S. Code, a provision enacted by the Gun Control Act of 1968. Amended by the NRA-supported Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 to require, rather than merely allow, the administration to approve the importation of firearms, that provision states that “the Attorney General shall authorize a firearm or ammunition to be imported or brought into the United States or any possession thereof if the firearm or ammunition . . . is generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes . . . .”
For the record, the NRA doesn’t believe that the importation of firearms should be limited to those that have a relation to sports. The right to arms has always been about having arms for defensive purposes, and in 2008, in District of Columbia, v. Heller, the Supreme Court agreed. The Heller opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, said “the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right,” which includes “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”
However, the BATFE doesn’t even interpret the law’s so-called “sporting purposes” test correctly. On several occasions over the last 25 years, it has deliberately changed its reading of the law, for political reasons, to prohibit the importation of semi-automatic firearms gun control supporters wanted banned.
In 1989, the BATFE (then BATF) concocted the theory that “sporting purposes” did not include practical-skills-based rifle competitions, which are dominated by semi-automatic, detachable-magazine rifles. It admitted that the National Rifle Trophy Matches and NRA National Rifle Championships are sporting, but ignored the fact that semi-automatic, detachable-magazine rifles dominate those events too. Further, it entirely ignored the law’s provision for firearms that are “readily adaptable” to a sporting purpose. It then banned the importation of 43 makes and models of semi-automatic rifles that it had previously approved for importation, including the exceptional Galil, HK-91/93/94 series, Fabrique Nationale FN and FNC, Steyr A.U.G, Valmet and, of course, the Kalashnikov series.
For years, the BATFE used Handgun Factoring Criteria which allow for the importation of handguns that get enough points on the basis of their size, caliber, safety features, sights and other physical attributes. In 1993, however, the agency ignored its own criteria and banned the importation of “assault pistols” that met the criteria, and that BATFE had previously approved.
In 1998, the BATFE expanded its 1989 ban by prohibiting any semi-automatic rifle that could accept a detachable magazine of over 10 rounds capacity, on the grounds that Sen. Feinstein’s “assault weapon” ban included a provision prohibiting the importation of newly-made such magazines. The BATFE simply ignored the fact that magazine capacity had nothing to do with whether firearms themselves were defined as “assault weapons” in Feinstein’s law.
Get 82 anti-gun members of Congress to sign onto something and you can bet there will be at least one lie or preposterous exaggeration, and this letter is no exception to that rule. The letter asks for a ban on the importation of AK-47-style pistols, claiming that they are the “top weapons of choice for international gun smugglers.” Yet it contradictorily identifies them as a “new breed of pistol” that has been “newly developed.” Maybe that’s what the letter’s authors, Rep, John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) had in mind when they referred to their letter as “a no-brainer.”
The letter focuses on Kalashnikov-style firearms because they are so obviously a type of firearm that the Second Amendment protects under the guidelines established by the Supreme Court in the Heller case. In Heller, the Court said that the amendment protects the right to have firearms that are useful for defensive purposes and that are “in common use.” Millions of Kalashnikov-series rifles have been bought in America during the last quarter-century, making them among the most common of our time, and they are obviously among the rifles that are most useful for defensive purposes.
This latest request, however out of step with the prevailing sense of Congress, demonstrates a firearm importation law in severe need of revision, particularly when considered in the light of BATFE’s illegitimate, agenda-driven misinterpretations of that law in the past.
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