Since the Gun Control Act of 1968, the U.S. gun market has been isolated from the rest of the world when it comes to modern sporting rifles (a.k.a., AR-15 pattern firearms). 18 U.S. Code § 925 (d) gives the Attorney General power to decide whether a particular type of firearm can be imported into the United States based on a series of tests, one of which is the “sporting purpose” clause.
The intent: to appease traditional hunters and sportsmen (frequently referred to as “Fudds“). This law assured them a supply of foreign-made bolt-action rifles and break-action shotguns, while keeping scary black guns from entering the U.S. market.
In the intervening 49 years much has changed. What was once considered an “assault rifle” with no discernible sporting purpose is now one of the most popular hunting rifles in the United States. AR-15-style rifles are also used in numerous competition sports. The firearms clearly meet the “sporting purpose” criteria set out in the law
Due to the anti-gun stance of prior Attorneys General, 18 U.S. Code § 925 (d) was never altered/interpreted to allow the importation of AR-15s and other “modern sporting rifles.” As a result, the U.S. has remained a closed market for magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles, such as Russia’s AK-47.
Over the last couple years some gun companies have gotten around the restriction by importing a neutered version of a prohibited firearm that’s compliant with the import restriction. Customers modify the foreign-made gun to accept larger magazines and other parts (a complicated process dictated by something called 922(r), discussed here).
While it’s an effective end-run around the import ban, the added headache and legal uncertainties have limited sales, especially as compared to their American-made counterparts.
The other way around this law: establish an American subsidiary to manufacture guns born and raised abroad. That’s why companies like SIG SAUER, FN Herstal and GLOCK set up U.S. plants. This practice has created thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs, improved local economies and increased U.S. weapons production capability.
With the inauguration of President Trump, there’s a chance that the Attorney General will expand the “sporting purpose” definition of 18 U.S. Code § 925 (d) to include modern sporting rifles of all stripes. With the stroke of a pen, the regulation encouraging and protecting American weapons manufacturers from foreign competition — for nearly five decades — would disappear.
If the foreign firearm floodgates open, larger gunmakers like SIG SAUER, FN and GLOCK aren’t likely to suffer. Their manufacturing, branding and distribution channels are extremely well-established. Besides, they need U.S. plants to satisfy lucrative government contracts. It’s the smaller gunmakers would be the most severely impacted.
During the Obama administration dozens if not hundreds of companies have popped-up around the United States manufacturing AR rifles and parts. With the election of President Trump sales are already dropping precipitously. If Chinese manufacturing plants start importing budget ARs and lower receivers, it would further squeeze profit margins for American-made ARs and parts.
Will it happen?
President Trump’s “America First” stance is all about protecting American jobs and doing away with disadvantageous trade agreements. While re-interpreting or removing the sporting purposes clause would open up a whole new world of new firearms for American gun owners and reduce prices, it would also spell doom of many smaller rifle manufacturers here in the United States. And the jobs that they sustain.
Which is why 18 U.S. Code § 925 (d) is unlikely to be repealed.