The Clinton administration’s proposed rule that would force all
federally licensed gun dealers, importers and manufacturers to inventory
their stocks once a year is the latest in a series of actions the
president has taken in an attempt to further strengthen firearms
regulations before leaving office next January.
The proposal, which was authored by the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and published Monday in the Federal Register, seeks to amend current firearms regulations “to require federally licensed importers, manufacturers and dealers of firearms to take at least one physical inventory each year.”
Furthermore, the rule would “also specify the circumstances under which these licensees must conduct a special physical inventory,” reporting any missing firearms within 48 hours.
The rule change is necessary because it would “help strengthen enforcement of federal firearms laws and reduce the avenues in which violent criminals and juveniles acquire illegal firearms,” according to a statement released by Treasury Undersecretary for Enforcement James Johnson on Wednesday.
The BATF claims more than 27,000 firearms were lost or stolen between 1998 and 1999, making them a “significant source of guns for criminals,” Johnson said.
The public has until Nov. 27 to comment on the proposed rules.
Existing law already requires dealers, importers and manufacturers to report missing guns within 48 hours, BATF said. Such losses or thefts can be reported either to the agency or another “appropriate” law-enforcement authority.
“Inventory discrepancies, record keeping errors and employee theft (problems which often only become apparent when a physical inventory is conducted) accounted for almost 40 percent of the reported incidents” of stolen weapons, BATF said in the Federal Register entry.
The rule would also clarify whose responsibility — the sender or the receiver — it is to report a weapon that does not make it to its intended destination. At present, BATF officials say, regulations do not single out which party is responsible for filing the loss report.
“The lack of clarity … may result in neither party reporting the theft or loss,” said the agency.
Officials said that in 1999, crimes were committed with 1,271 guns that neither party — sender or receiver — had reported stolen and that no licensees had reported missing.
Critics of the new proposal call it an unnecessary and politically motivated tool to increase gun control.
According to a 1995 study by
Doctors for Integrity in Public
Policy Research, headed by Dr. Edgar A. Suter, the BATF has said that about half of all federally licensed gun dealers have no inventory and, thus, nothing to count.
Besides, the research group noted, “existent federal … law stringently regulates gun dealers and gun sales” already.
“There is extensive oversight and enforcement of those laws,” the study said. “If illegal activity can be identified, existent law can be used to prosecute and punish the wrongdoers.”
The BATF proposal follows a Clinton directive issued in February to crack down on the small percentage of gun dealers who are the source of a majority of weapons used in crimes, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 5.
Clinton ordered federal agents to target 1,020 gun dealers in what he termed the “most aggressive effort ever undertaken to ensure responsible behavior by gun dealers,” the paper said.
The dealers the administration identified — though not by name — made up only 1.2 percent of the nation’s federal licensed gun dealers, but accounted for 57.4 percent of nearly 200,000 guns traced to crimes in 1998, according to a BATF report.
Meanwhile, new rules adopted by BATF, along with the State and Commerce departments, have expanded the prohibition against importing certain semi-automatic rifles, including a World War II-era rifle that hasn’t been manufactured in decades.
The rules, published in the Federal Register June 20, conform to a directive issued by President Clinton to the BATF, State and Commerce departments following the Second Summit of the Americas, held in Santiago, Chile, in April 1998.
At that time, Clinton “announced that the United States would issue regulations implementing the ‘Model Regulations for the Control of the International Movement of Firearms, Their Parts and Components, and Ammunition.’”
The Model Regulations, which were drafted by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission at the request of the Organization of American States, were written “to provide standardized procedures for the international movement of firearms … so as to prevent illegal trafficking in these articles.”
According to one firearms importer,
Boca Raton, Fla.-based Century
Arms, the newly banned rifles include the venerable U.S.-made M-1 Garand rifle.
“On the day Al Gore accepted the Democratic nomination for president, a legal committee at BATF effectively banned an entire class of previously importable firearms,” said a press release on the Century Arms website.
According to the Federal Register, under BATF rules, Part 47 — governing the “Importation of Arms, Ammunition, and Implements of War,” §47.57, entitled, “U.S. Military Defense Articles” — “no military defense article of United States manufacture may be imported into the United States if such article was furnished to a foreign government under a foreign assistance or foreign military sales program of the” U.S.
Also, the rule — 69-309 — permitting active duty U.S. military members to “import” up to three rifles or shotguns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition upon “returning from active duty,” has been revoked by BATF.
The agency said it “believes that this ruling is inconsistent with the … Model Regulations, since no advance authorization is required for such importations.” Under the BATF’s revised rules, “servicemen returning to the U.S. from overseas duty may still import personal firearms pursuant to [Title] 18 U.S.C.,” but those regulations involve filing forms — some in triplicate — with BATF and also require prior approval.
Firearms dealers like Century Arms, which have been importing such weapons for years, see more politics than practicality behind the new measures.