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Taking aim at semiautomatics

By Sonya Ross Associated Press Published: April 6, 1998 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON _ President Clinton is moving to close a loophole that has allowed thousands of foreign-made assault rifles to enter the United States despite a 1994 ban on such weapons.

Clinton planned today to make permanent his temporary prohibition on importing assault weapons that have been modified for sport shooting, issuing an executive order permanently barring the importation of 58 modified weapons, a White House official said Sunday.

Most of the affected guns are variations of the AK-47 and Uzi semiautomatic weapons, the official said. The announcement was being made in a Rose Garden ceremony.

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Clinton's order follows a Treasury Department review of 59 weapons, done in consultation with state game and law enforcement agencies, hunting guides, and publications and groups devoted to hunting and shooting. The review determined that many of the guns in question do not meet requirements under federal law for import for sporting purposes, mainly because they can be fitted with large-capacity magazines.

Only one weapon, the .308-caliber Vepr, was considered acceptable for continued import, a Treasury official said Sunday. The gun is a variant of the AK-47.

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Importers will be allowed a 30-day period to appeal the Treasury findings.

In a report last December, the Congressional Research Service said Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms interprets sporting purposes so broadly that many of the weapons allowed entry have features not needed for sport use, such as semi-automatic fire, grips for one-handed combat shooting and large ammunition clips.

Under a 1968 federal law, foreign firearms brought into the United States must be for sporting purposes only, such as target shooting skeet and trap shooting, and hunting. A 1989 law bans shipment of assault weapons into the United States, with an exemption if they are used for sport.

Since then, many manufacturers have altered the appearance of their weapons to give them a sporty look that gets them past the ban.

In November, Clinton ordered a 120-day suspension on import permits for about 43 types of military-style rifles and directed Treasury officials to review policies to determine whether there should be further restrictions to block altered assault weapons, which are in high demand.

Last year, firearms importers obtained permits to ship in nearly 600,000 altered guns, and applications were pending for an additional 1 million. Some 20,000 of the 600,000 weapons already have entered the country.

Clinton's order comes at the urging of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who asked him to block an Israeli manufacturer's export to this country of thousands of modified military-style assault weapons. The guns, known as the Uzi American and the Galil Sporter, were modified for sport. ATF officials have said the guns remain capable of firing rapid rounds of ammunition but were approved for import because they were not found to violate the 1994 assault weapons ban.

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