November 12, 1997 in Nation/World

Approval Of 600,000 Assault Weapons Threatens Importation Ban

Jeff Brazil And Steve Berry Los Angeles Times

President Clinton’s effort to block the importation of military-style assault weapons modified to skirt U.S. law has become complicated by the revelation that federal regulators have already approved shipments totalling up to 600,000 of the high-powered guns.

The 600,000 figure, which is significantly higher than most observers anticipated, is certain to complicate a debate at the White House over broadening the administration’s recently proposed restrictions on future import permits for foreign assault weapons.

If the White House doesn’t widen its 3-week-old proposed directive - which has been criticized as a lukewarm response to the problem of redesigned assault weapons - the 600,000 guns would be allowed into the country.

“We all were more than a little surprised” at the figure, said a knowledgeable source in the Treasury Department, which has been researching the arms importation issue at the request of the White House.

Tuesday’s developments come three weeks after a senior White House official confirmed that Clinton planned to sign a directive to limit the influx of foreign-made assault weapons. At the time, the administration was committed to temporarily suspending the issuance of new import permits. Almost immediately, however, the administration’s proposed plan was criticized because it would not forbid the importation of weapons that had already been granted permits by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

It was unclear, then, exactly how many weapons had been granted permits. But in recent days, researchers at the Treasury Department have discovered that, in the past 12 months alone, ATF has approved import licenses for up to 600,000 modified assault weapons.

Thirty U.S. senators, led by California’s Dianne Feinstein, have implored Clinton in a letter to use his executive authority to prevent the entrance into the country of foreign-made weapons that have come to symbolize the substantial shortcomings of the nation’s laws on assault weapons.

Josh Sugarmann, head of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., reacted strongly to the news that more than a half-million modified assault weapons have been approved for import.

“This shows that it is essential that these weapons be stopped,” Sugarmann said.

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