About 80 House members wrote a letter to President Obama Wednesday urging him to renew enforcement against the import of military-style, semiautomatic firearms.
Under the 1968 Gun Control Act, they write, the president has broad authority to prohibit guns and ammunition from being imported into the country unless they are “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”
The effort was spearheaded by Reps. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Eliot Engel, New York Democrat and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Restoring the import ban is a no-brainer that would require no legislative action, would make our nation safer and would support neighboring Mexico where drug violence is fueled by firearms flowing south from the United States,” Mr. Engel said in a statement.
The representatives write that the ban was previously enforced during the administrations of President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton, and would improve public safety in the United States as well as neighboring Mexico, where they say there have been about 70,000 organized crime-related deaths since 2006.
“We urge you to once again fully enforce a ban on the import of military-style firearms and to expand the ban to include newly-developed AK-type pistols that combine the firepower of a rifle with the concealability of a pistol,” they wrote. “This new breed of pistol has absolutely no ‘sporting purpose’ and presents a clear threat to public safety.”
The representatives go on to write that such firearms are top weapons of choice for international drug smugglers and that there is an increasing percentage of military-style firearms identified in prosecutions in the United States.
The administration already has acted to deny requests to import U.S. surplus military firearms.
Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and chief counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the firearms industry, said the NSSF opposes any effort to restrict lawful firearms transactions.
“We vigorously oppose efforts by antigun politicians to further restrict the lawful commerce in commonly-owned rifles that are used for law abiding Americans for legitimate purposes like target shooting, hunting and self-defense,” he said.
The letter asks that the administration ban the import of high-capacity weapons, as well the frame or receiver of military-style weapons and the practice of importing the guns in parts and then assembling them in the country, among other items.
While the letter concerned weapons flowing into the country, the administration has come under heavy fire for its handling of operation Fast and Furious, which was intended to track sales of U.S. guns and watch the guns be shipped across the border to a Mexican drug cartel.
But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lost track of the roughly 2,000 weapons after they were sold.
Some of the guns eventually began showing up at crime scenes, including two that were recovered at the site of a 2010 Arizona shootout that left Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry dead.
In June 2012, the House cited U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for contempt of Congress over Mr. Holder’s decision to withhold documents regarding the Justice Department’s actions in the botched gunwalking operation.
Tempers flared this week over the vote when Mr. Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
“Sir, I’ve read you what your department promised, and it is inadequate, and I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper oversight,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican.
Mr. Holder, leaning back in his seat, then advised Mr. Gohmert: “You don’t want to go there, buddy. You don’t want to go there, okay?”
“You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me,” Mr. Holder said as he pointed his finger at the congressman. “I think that it was inappropriate. I think it was unjust, but never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don’t ever think that.”
The exchange continued with both Mr. Holder and Mr. Gohmert saying to each other that they “don’t need lectures” from the other.