Rep. Engel Writes to President Obama Calling For the Closing of Assault Weapons Import Loopholes

Rep. Engel Writes to President Obama Calling For the Closing of Assault Weapons Import Loopholes

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, authored a letter to President Obama cosigned by 91 of his House colleagues, asking the President to follow up his executive action on background checks with further steps that would restore tough enforcement of the assault weapon import ban.

Although it is currently illegal to import assault weapons into the U.S., the George W. Bush administration used executive action to create sizeable loopholes in the law. Under current administrative guidance, for example, even an AK-47 assault rifle might be permitted. Congressman Engel and his colleagues are asking the President to use his existing authority to close these loopholes. Text of the letter can be found below:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. President:

We write today in strong support of your plans to take executive action to expand background checks on the sale of guns, and we respectfully renew our request that your administration return to the strong enforcement of the ban on imports of military-style assault weapons that was in effect during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

With more than a mass shooting on average each day this year in this country, and remembering the many thousands of Americans who have died as a result of gun violence just since the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut three years ago, we believe strongly that we as the people’s representatives must do what we can to stem the tide of dangerous weapons flowing into the hands of dangerous people.

Expanding background checks to include additional gun sellers is an important step, and we welcome recent reports that your administration is planning to take that step. But, in accordance with the Gun Control Act of 1968, we respectfully ask that you also consider tightening significantly the rules that currently allow for the importation into the U.S. of military-style assault weapons.

The Gun Control Act prohibits the importation into the United States of any firearm that is not “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has already said that this import ban includes “semiautomatic assault rifles” with “military configuration features.”

Unfortunately, current guidance treats these terms too narrowly, focusing only on the inclusion of specific parts and components. This scheme risks losing sight of the threat posed by such powerful weapons, which were designed for the military and clearly have no sporting purpose. Further, focusing on parts and components creates a loophole whereby minor cosmetic changes to a non-sporting weapon can permit its import.

Current guidance allows, for example, the free importation into the U.S. of variants on the AK-47 assault rifle. Weapons like these flow throughout the United States and Mexico by both legal and illegal channels. They make up a major portion of weapons identified in criminal prosecutions in the United States, and nearly one in five weapons seized at crime scenes in Mexico are AK-47 variants trafficked into that country after being imported through the U.S.

It’s time to develop a new policy that will strengthen enforcement of the Gun Control Act and eliminate these loopholes. In response to similar circumstances, previous administrations have undertaken administrative reviews to determine which additional dangerous weapons should be prohibited from importation. In April of 2014, more than 90 Members of Congress from the House and Senate wrote to ask you to consider tightening these restrictions using your existing authority. Again, we welcome the news that your administration is moving quickly to expand background checks by executive action. But today we renew our request that your administration use similar action to address the importation of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons.

We are all familiar by now with how popular weapons like these are among terrorists and mass shooters. Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, Robert Dear, Muhammad Abdulazeez and others used semiautomatic assault rifles to kill and wound dozens in the name of their warped ideologies. Stemming the flow of these weapons into the United States would help to temper the danger these weapons pose, and so we thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


Eliot L. Engel                                                  
Member of Congress