By now gun owners have become accustomed to a certain measure of ignorance from anti-gun politicians and their lapdogs in the mainstream press on matters of firearms policy. It’s the flamboyant stridency of that ignorance that remains shocking.
Last week, the presidential campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced that if elected president the candidate would ban the importation of AR-15-style “assault weapons.” Characterizing the campaign’s proposal, Politico reported,
Harris wants to ban AR-15-style assault weapon imports and suspend all other assault weapon imports until the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can analyze whether they should be permanently banned under U.S. law. Her campaign argues the weapons could be banned because they aren’t “suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”
At a campaign event in Nashua, N.H. Harris herself told those gathered, “I’m announcing for the first time today here with you to take executive action to ban the import of assault weapons into our country.”
Predictably, Harris’s proposal was trumpeted by an uncritical press.
Apparently unbeknownst to the candidate and her media sycophants, the federal government already prohibits the importation of so-called “assault weapons.”
Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Attorney General has a measure of discretion regarding what firearms may be imported into the United States. 18 U.S.C. § 925 states,
(d) 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–
(3) is of a type that does not fall within the definition of a firearm as defined in section 5845(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and is generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes…
The “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes” language has become known as the much-maligned “sporting purposes test.”
In 1989, the George Bush administration used the sporting purposes test to prohibit the importation of certain types of commonly-owned semi-automatic rifles. In 1998, under the direction of President Bill Clinton, ATF used the sporting purposes test to expand the 1989 import ban to encompass a larger category of semi-automatic firearms.
The Clinton import ban included what the bureau termed “large capacity military magazine rifles,” or LCMM rifles. LCMM rifles are those capable of accepting standard capacity magazines; like the AR-15. In an April 1998 document titled “Department of the Treasury Study on the Sporting Suitability of Modified Semiautomatic Assault Rifles,” ATF determined that “LCMM rifles are not generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes and are therefore not importable.” At the time, White House official Jose Cerda told the press, “We are taking the law and bending it as far as we can to capture a whole new class of guns.”
NRA-ILA opposes the sporting purposes test as well as ATF’s application of the test. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as interpreted in District of Columbia v. Heller protects an individual’s right to access firearms in common use for lawful purposes. Self-defense is a lawful purpose, and therefore firearms suitable to that purpose should be available independent of any “sporting” application.
Regarding interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 925, ATF has adopted a cramped reading of the operative passage. As explained in ATF’s January 2011 “Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns,” the agency refuses to recognize informal sport shooting such as plinking and practical shooting competitions like 3-gun as falling under the scope of “sporting purposes.”
Moreover, the agency has read the “or readily adaptable” language out of the statute entirely, as evidenced by the popularity of commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms for the traditional sports of target shooting and hunting.
However misguided, for more than 20 years the federal government has prohibited the importation of commonly-owned semi-automatic rifles that Harris would term “AR-15-style assault weapons.”
Harris’s proposal to enact a policy that has already been in place for two decades reveals the candidate’s appalling disregard of the facts. The mainstream media’s complicity in this embarrassing episode reveals their inability or unwillingness to correct even the most egregious statements from their preferred candidates.