On Thursday, August 29, the White House announced two new executive orders to prevent gun violence. The new orders prohibit the importation of military surplus weapons, such as the M-1 assault rifle, that were previously sold to foreign governments. They also close a loophole in the background check system in order to keep some of the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals.
After Congress’ shameful inability to pass the overwhelmingly popular, common-sense reforms that were debated this spring, the White House has chosen to take further actions on its own. These executive orders will help keep dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
Additional executive actions to prevent gun violence—both here and in Mexico—would include fully enforcing the prohibition on the importation of assault weapons. This is an additional step that the administration could take without the approval of Congress. The ban was initially declared by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 and strengthened by the Clinton administration in 1998. However, importers and manufacturers have found a variety of clever ways to get around the ban. They have gotten many assault rifles exempted from the ban by having them classified as “for sporting purposes,” and have imported the weapons in parts or made slight design modifications in order to evade the restrictions.
As a result, dangerous weapons, such as the WASR-10 rifles manufactured in Romania, are imported in mass numbers despite the existence of the import ban. These weapons have been implicated in mass shootings in the United States. They are also playing an increasingly important role in arming Mexican drug cartels. In recent years, drug cartels have become more and more dependent on these types of imported guns, which are both less expensive and more easily converted to fully automatic fire.
The Obama administration has the power to stop importers and manufacturers from getting around the ban by issuing a new ruling that closes the many loopholes in the current ban. WOLA encourages the administration to consider immediate action on this issue.