Israel Could Lose ‘millions’ Because of Federal Ban on Uzis

A federal ban on semiautomatic weapons could have a “devastating effect” on the division of Israel Military Industries that manufactures the Uzi, according to the sole U.S. importer of the assault-type rifle.

The Bush administration moved July 7 to ban imports of assault weapons, making permanent the temporary ban it imposed March 15.

Chayim Stern, operations manager of Actions Arms Ltd. in Philadelphia, declined to give a dollar figure or exact number of the Uzis his firm has sold.

But he said that as many as 100,000 of the guns have been sold since Action Arms obtained the patent for the semiautomatic version of the Israeli-made firearm nine year ago.

Stern said that the semiautomatic version of the gun used to sell for approximately $700 at the retail level, but prices have zoomed to $1,500 to $2,000 per gun since the March 15 temporary ban was announced.

Stern said Uzi sales have come to “the millions of dollars” since 1980.

Zvi Yoram, director of Israel Military Industries-USA in Chevy Chase, Md., also declined to say how much money the Israeli government-run company stands to lose due to the ban.

“Basically, we have to honor the decisions which have been taken, and then manage to survive,” said Yoram.

“I think the message is clear: If it’s not good for the United States, it’s also not good for us,” he said.

According to Tom Hill, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the July 7 ban affects weapons that are thought to be used for purposes other than hunting and other “appropriate purposes.”

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Guns fail the test if they have a military appearance, large magazine capacity or are a semiautomatic version of a machine gun.

The ban thus affects both the Uzi carbine and the Galil-type rifle, also manufactured by Israel Military Industries and distributed in North America by Action Arms. The Galil 22-caliber rifle is not affected by the ban, he said.

The machine-gun version of the Uzi has been banned since 1986, said Hill.

Law enforcement groups and advocates of gun control hailed the government’s announcement. They point out that the compact Uzi has become the weapon of choice for drug dealers and inner-city gangs.

Other weapons manufactured by Israel Military Industries will continue to be imported and sold in the United States, including the Desert Eagle, a pistol distributed by Magnum Research in Minneapolis, and the Sirkis pistol, imported by Arms Corp. in Silver Spring, Md.

Israel Military Industries has until Aug. 7 to present additional evidence as to why the government should not include the Uzi or Galil-type weapons in the ban.

But speaking as the holder of the exclusive import rights to the Uzi, Stern said he is not optimistic.

“It is not good news,” he said of the ban. “It could be devastating as far as that particular division of IMI is concerned. It certainly has a ripple effect, and we know the shape of the Israeli economy in the first place.”

Stern said that it was Action Arms, owned by his father, Harry, which first approached the Israelis nine years ago with the idea of marketing a “civilian version” of their famed Uzi rifle.

He said the biggest percentage of those buying the guns are collectors, but others buy them for target shooting, self-defense and hunting, although their use for hunting had already been banned in many states.

Asked if he had any qualms about selling an Israeli-made weapon with such a notorious reputation, Stern said, “Absolutely none.”

“Initially, when you started, you have some doubts,” he said. “But the justification is the income we generated for the State of Israel. It’s a legitimate business. We are not purveyors of anything illegal.”

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