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ATF allows redesigned firearms.

ATF Allows Redesigned Firearms

Guess who's mad at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). No, not the National Rifle Association. This time it's the anti-gunners who are upset with the Bureau.

In fact, the anti's and much of the media became nearly hysterical in late July when they discovered that several companies reportedly had received permission from ATF to import some altered versions of the firearms that were banned from import last year.

To hear much of the media tell it, you can now order air-to-air missiles and M1A1 Abrams tanks (or Leopard II's for those of you who like imports) through the mail. Every newspaper and network seemed to carry a different version of what ATF's position is on imports.

We finally asked ATF to clarify this matter and received a detailed reply from a fellow who should know: Stephen E. Higgins, director of ATF.

Higgins began by tracing the events of last year, as he informed SI that, "On March 14, 1989, ATF announced a suspension on the import of certain semiautomatic assault-type rifles, pending a review of whether these rifles met the sporting purposes test under the law. The temporary ban affected over 700,000 rifles covered by import permits already issued or pending approval.

"The ban was made permanent in July of 1989. It was not directed at all semiautomatic rifles. The ban was based on the fact that these weapons all possessed a number of military assault-type characteristics.

"Based on ATF's firearms expertise, a survey of available literature and responses to questionnaires sent to many outside sources -- including hunting and shooting clubs and state hunting officials -- ATF determined there was no general recognition that these rifles were suitable for sporting purposes.

"Subsequently, several importers approached ATF to find out what modifications could be made to render their rifles importable. ATF required that all military features be eliminated. Over the past year, ATF has approved seven specific prototypes submitted of the redesigned firearms.

"The weapons approved for importation are in the configuration of traditional sporting rifles. This problem was initially faced when ATF found that one of the rifles on the suspension list, the Valmet Hunter (an AK-47 type), had been substantially altered in appearance and was clearly intended as a hunting rifle.

"ATF determined then that the alteration to the weapon and the fact that it employed a more traditional hunting configuration operated to remove it from the assault rifle category. Consequently, the Valmet Hunter was approved for import at the same time that the permanent ban was imposed on imported assault-type rifles."

Higgins concluded, "ATF has repeatedly stated that the ban was not intended to interfere with the import of legitimate sporting rifles. As long as the rifles have been modified into a sporting configuration, there are no legal, policy or public safety considerations which would justify the disapproval of their import."

The imports are considered so different from the originals that they are, in effect, entirely new models that qualify for importation as sporting firearms.

The importers have removed the firearms' bayonet fittings, night sights, flash suppressors, grenade launchers and pistol grips -- the very features that the government claimed made them unsuitable for "sporting purposes."

However, the anti-gunners immediately screamed "foul" and claimed that the Bush Administration simply was trying to gain favor with pro-gun groups like the NRA, which strongly criticized the administration for banning imports in the first place.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater further angered the anti's when he told the media that, "Apparently the way the existing rules are written, ATF is not authorized to prevent these weapons from coming in."

To make matters worse, Fitzwater said that the modified firearms would be allowed in the country under the provisions of the Omnibus Crime Bill that passed the Senate.

The anti-gun Firearms Policy Project (FPP) claims that the firearms that have been redesigned and approved for importation include the Uzi carbine, Galil, K-91, SAR-8 and SAR-4800. It says its assertions are based on documents obtained from ATF under the Freedom of Information Act.

"It's more than a weakening," FPP Director Josh Sugarmann told The New York Times. "It essentially renders the July (1989) ban null and void. These guns look less threatening, but they are not less deadly."

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) -- never one to miss an anti-gun cause -- proclaimed, "We are either going to keep these weapons off our streets or we are not. The Bush Administration would do well to rethink its policy altogether and ban all assault weapons, foreign or domestic."

Dot Koester, an ATF public affairs spokesperson, told me, "I was amazed at the press coverage this received."

I commented that my experience is that most members of the media don't know much about firearms and don't seem to want to learn much.

She replied, "Well, you know reporters kept asking me if it wasn't true that these modified firearms would accept clips of any size. I told them, yes, but that is true of any semiautomatic firearm.

"But I just couldn't seem to get the point across. It's amazing what people can fail to understand, especially when they seem determined to misunderstand."

What can we say except, "Welcome to the club, Ms. Koester."

Amid this good news regarding imports comes bad news from Europe. Britain's Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) reports that as Europe moves toward economic and apparently political union in 1992, extremely restrictive gun legislation is being considered by the 12-nation European Economic Community which would:

1. Ban all post 1870 military firearms.

2. Ban all semiautomatic firearms.

3. Introduce a much more limited definition of the term "antique," which will be essentially limited to pre-1870 technology and even then will exclude some early obsolete cartridge firearms.

4. Revoke a gunowner's certificate if he or she loses the firearm to which it refers.

5. Require all national legislatures to reduce the ownership of firearms by civilians.

6. Insist that all spare magazines be licensed. But the HBSA claims the situation could be worse.

Earlier proposals also would have provided for:

1. A total prohibition on the possession of pistols and revolvers by civilians for recreational purposes. One exception was offered: single shot rimfire guns over 28 centimeters (about 11.2 inches long).

2. Psychological testing and proof of competence for the ownership of some classes of firearms.

3. A ban on under 18-year-olds taking part in shooting sports.

4. The loss of all licenses and certificates should a person lose possession of any one of his or her firearms for any reason whatsoever.

Finally, how well is the so-called "assault weapons" ban working in Los Angles? According to the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), homicide in the city has jumped more than 10% since the ban went into effect last year. Enough said?
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Title Annotation:Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Author:Schneider, Jim
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Previous Article:Fall handgun roundup: Charlie Petty's review of what's new on dealer's shelves.
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