WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 (JTA) – In a move directed in part at Israel’s attempts to export guns to the United States, President Clinton has temporarily halted the importation of all modified assault weapons. Saying he would not “let people overseas turn our streets into battle zones,” Clinton last week ordered the Treasury Department to suspend importation of foreign-made assault weapons for 120 days while his administration studies whether they can be permanently blocked. Imports of semiautomatic assault rifles have been banned since 1989. But Clinton accused “some foreign gun manufacturers” of attempting to evade the restrictions by “making minor modifications to their weapons that amount to nothing more than cosmetic surgery.” Federal law currently allows the import of guns designed for “sporting purposes.” Attempting to qualify certain assault weapons under that definition, foreign manufacturers such as Israel Military Industries, which is owned by the Israeli government, have been modifying Uzis and Galils. Under pressure from U.S. lawmakers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that he was suspending the sale of such guns in the U.S. civilian market for 90 days. Israel said the suspension was for “humanitarian reasons” and because of the “special sensitivity” of the issue in the United States. Israel had expected to sell about 10,000 of the assault weapons – worth about $7 million – to the United States over the next three or four years, according to Israel Military Industries. “We didn’t fight as hard as we have” to ban such weapons “only to let a few gun manufacturers sidestep our laws and undermine our progress,” Clinton in his weekly radio address. “We’ve banned these guns because you don’t need an Uzi to go deer hunting, and everyone knows it.” Clinton’s directive blocked permits already issued to dealers this year for 600,000 guns and freezes applications now pending to import 1 million more. Some 20,000 of the 600,000 weapons already have entered the country. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who led 29 other senators in urging such action in September, praised Clinton’s decision. “I believe that when the review is completed, hundreds of thousands of military-style assault weapons that have been marketed under the guise of `sporting weapons’ will be permanently barred from importation,” Feinstein said in a statement.
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