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Ban on Assault Weapons Terminates Israeli Exports

April 7, 1998
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President Clinton’s executive order banning imports of 58 types of assault weapons slams the door on Israel’s attempts to sell thousands of military-style rifles in the United States.

The move closes a loophole in a 1994 assault weapons ban through which thousands of foreign-made assault rifles have found their way to American shores.

Some foreign gun manufacturers, such as Israel Military Industries, which is owned by the Israeli government, have been modifying semiautomatic rifles for “sporting purposes” in order to evade restrictions.

In fact it was the planned exports from Israel that first prompted congressional scrutiny of the issue.

Israel had expected to sell about 10,000 of the assault weapons — worth approximately $7 million — to the United States over the next three to four years, according to Israel Military Industries.

Israel has said throughout the controversy that it was abiding by U.S. law and would continue to do so in accordance with any change. Indeed, an Israeli official indicated the government would comply with the ban.

David Rubin, Israel’s economic minister to North America, said the ban would not significantly affect the Israeli economy in light of the relatively small number of exports.

Clinton’s decision comes after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a staunch gun- control advocate, enlisted the support of 29 colleagues in an attempt to stop the export of the Israeli weapons.

The Israeli government at first resisted, but then decided to suspend the sale of the Uzi American and the Galil Sporter in the U.S. civilian market, due to what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the “special sensitivity” of the issue in the United States.

The focus on Israel eventually broadened to include at least a dozen other countries — including Russia, Greece and Bulgaria — that were also modifying their weapons to sell in the United States.

In response to the lawmakers’ outcry, Clinton in November ordered a 120-day suspension on import permits for about 43 types of modified assault weapons while his administration studied whether they could be permanently blocked.

Announcing the ban at a White House ceremony Monday, Clinton vowed “to do our best to keep our people alive.”

“There are still far too many children in harm’s way, too many families behind locked doors, too many guns in the hands of too many criminals,” he said.

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

Major restrictions on the import of foreign-made assault weapons were first imposed in 1989, following a schoolyard shooting in Stockton, Calif.

In 1994 Congress enacted broader prohibitions on the manufacture, sale and possession of most assault weapons. But foreign manufacturers responded by altering the design and appearance of some weapons to meet requirements under federal law for import for sporting purposes.

Clinton’s order, which comes in the wake of last month’s schoolyard killing in Jonesboro, Ark., had been widely anticipated since Clinton imposed the temporary ban.

Feinstein said she believed the decision “will mean that more lives will be saved.”

“What sportsman needs a military-style rifle with a 90-round ammunition drum to go hunting?” she said. “The only purpose these weapons serve is to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.”

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