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Changes in nation's federal gun laws: just what do they entail?

Changes In Nation's Federal Gun Laws: Just What Will They Entail?

Major changes in the nation's federal gun laws appear to be on the horizon and moving closer by the day. However, the question remains: what exactly will these changes retail?

Measures range from the Berman bill, which would ban even the possession of millions of semiautomatic firearms already owned by law-abiding Americans, to a proposal to set up a national system for instant checks on would-be firearms purchases.

Bush Administration's Stand

As this issue of SHOOTING INDUSTRY goes to press, an equally important question is: Where is the Bush administration going to come down on the question of gun control?

First, we saw Barbara Bush telling reporters she "absolutely believes" that so-called assault weapons should be banned. Then we heard President Bush say he was "not about" to ban semiautomatic firearms.

Suspension of Imports

The real shocker came on March 14, when the national drug director, William J. Bennet, persuaded Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady to indefinitely suspend import permits for the AK-47, Uzi carbine, FN-FAL, FN-FNC and Steyr AUG.

Bennett informed the media that the suspension went into effect immediately "pending a decision as to whether these weapons are, as required by law, `particularly suitable for, or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.'"

If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) finds that the majority of these firearms are being used for sporting purposes, the suspension of imports will supposedly be lifted.

Stephen E. Higgins, director of BATF, said, "This is an action we could take that would kind of freeze the issue where it is. This will put some of the burden on the importer to establish or re-establish that there is a sporting purpose."

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told reporters that President Bush supported the import suspension. He said "a red flag" went up after there was a sudden surge of applications for imports of semiautomatic "assault rifles."

When asked if he had reversed his position on gun control, Bush replied, "It's a pulse change. We're enforcing the law, incidentally, that talks about the suitability of weapons for sporting purposes."

Bush added that the police "have been very concerned about this, and we've got to find an accommodation between the police and the sporting interest. In my opinion, there can be an accommodation, there must be an accommodation."

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association appeared to be taking all this furor remarkably calmly. Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, issued a statement saying the suspension of imports would relieve the "media hysteria" over the guns and "should provide an atmosphere for a reasoned and sensible debate on this issue."

Later, Jim Baker, director of the Federal Affairs Division of NRA-ILA, told me, "Gunowners must not view the Bush administration as the enemy. The real enemies are the bills being proposed by people like Sen. Metzenbaum. Now is not the time to fight with people who are basically on our side but to concentrate on our enemies."

He also expressed confidence that BATF's study would show that the so-called assault rifles being brought into this country are being used for "sporting purposes" and that their import would be resumed.

Not all pro-gun groups have been as kind to the Bush administration. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), issued a statement declaring, "The Bush administration has taken a big step toward disarming the American people."

Also, Bennett complained to the media that the NRA was attempting to put political pressure on him through third parties. The NRA denied the charge.

The anti-gunners' strategy is clear. They are attempting to associate semiautomatic firearms with crime -- especially drug-related crime. In light of this, the gun lobby -- and particularly the NRA -- is attempting to get national attention focused on criminals.

"We're putting together a specific counter proposal that deals with crime, as opposed to firearms," Baker noted. An instantaneous check on would-be firearms purchases is part of that proposal.

Appearing on the "This Morning with David Brinkley" program on March 19, LaPierre said, "I think if I wanted to cut crime, I'd join the National Rifle Association..."

When asked about a waiting period, LaPierre responded, "...we will go with instantaneous checks nationwide on all firearms purchases. We won't go along with trying to say, `Look, this one is good -- that one gun is bad.'

"Let's put an instantaneous check on every purchase in the country to make sure someone isn't slipping through the cracks..."

On that same program, U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh -- who certainly is a key player in the Bush administration -- sounded pro-gun, declaring, "I'd beware of simplistic solutions. The fact of the matter is there is an historic and honorable firearms tradition in this country. It's recognized in the Constitution."

NRA's Program

Baker gave a preview of what else may be in that NRA program back on February 10th, when he testified at a hearing on semiautomatic firearms by the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution. He outlined a six-point proposal, including:

-- Assignment of at least one Assistant

U.S. Attorney in each district to

prosecute felon-in-possession (of

firearms) cases;

-- A five-year freeze on plea bargain

agreements when individuals are

charged with violent or drug trafficking


-- Increased enforcement of the Firearms

Owners' Protection Act,

especially the section making it a federal

felony, to be punished with mandatory

penalties, to use a firearm while

committing a drug-trafficking offense;

-- Measures to increase the nation's

prison space;

-- Establishment of a special,

expedited death penalty for those who kill

police officers in the course of

committing a felony or who kill police

officers' family members in retribution

for the performance of their

duties; and

-- The accurate and instantaneous

screening of firearms purchases at the

point of purchase.

Baker stressed that it's absolutely vital that pro-gunners contract their U.S. senators and representatives and urge them to oppose any efforts to outlaw semiautomatic firearms. "Grass-roots support is the name of the game," he said.

Colt Industries' Reaction

If the actions of the Bush administration have been somewhat puzzling during this period, the behavior of Colt Industries, Inc., has been an absolute enigma. First, Colt announced it was filing a lawsuit in California to try to overturn local semiauto bans. Then it dropped the case. Finally, Colt announced it was suspending sales of its AR-15 to the civilian market.

Persons in the firearms division of Colt reportedly were not informed in advance by corporate headquarters in New York of the decision to suspend sales. The action was as much of a shock to them as to everyone else.

Gunowners around the country reacted with anger to Colt's announcement. "Our switchboard has been lit up," Baker noted. "We have received literally hundreds of phone calls from persons who are extremely upset with Colt's decision."

Meanwhile, the wire services have been filled with quotes from gun dealers commenting on the run on these so-called "assault rifles."

"We could...hardly give one away prior to this mass hysteria, and now every other customer that comes in there wants an AK," said Donald Davis, owner of Don's Guns, a chain of three stores in Indianapolis.

PHOTO : Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for

PHOTO : Legislative Action (NRA-ILA).
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Author:Schneider, Jim
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:May 1, 1989
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