Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Seeks to Halt Flow of Illegal Gun Imports Gun-Control Debate Intensifies as Clinton Prepares to Order a 90- Day Suspension of Imports of Semi-Automatic Weapons

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Seeks to Halt Flow of Illegal Gun Imports Gun-Control Debate Intensifies as Clinton Prepares to Order a 90- Day Suspension of Imports of Semi-Automatic Weapons

Article excerpt

When federal agents this month arrested 14 people, including six United States marines, for allegedly trafficking in stolen military weapons, they sought to dam a rivulet feeding a nationwide flood of small arms.

President Clinton may be about to block another source, at least temporarily. He is considering a 90-day suspension of imports of semi-automatic versions of guns such as the AK-47.

Such imports were banned in 1989 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). But newly released ATF data show they have since resumed with the agency's approval, with more than 35,000 such rifles entering the US in 1996. Just why the ATF, a Treasury Department division that oversees federal gun laws, began signing off on the imports again is unclear and is to be reviewed during the suspension period. Whatever the reason, demands for the suspension underscore the alarm over the growing use of powerful weapons on US streets - as evidenced by police in Los Angeles and Miami recently upgrading their own arsenals to match those of criminals. Critics accuse Clinton of using the issue to further limit firearms - even beyond the 1994 ban on US-made assault weapons. "The Clinton administration is introducing the bigger Clinton gun ban ... still another prohibition that bans more guns," contends Tanya Metaksa, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. For the NRA, any restrictions on gun sales constitutes a breach of the constitutional right to bear arms. But advocates of the suspension, including 30 senators led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, say a crackdown on imported semi-automatic rifles is urgently needed to bolster the 1994 ban and limit the number guns available to criminals. "These weapons ... have become the weapon of choice for grievance killers, gangs, and those who use them against police," the senators said in a Sept. …

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