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Industry News: December 1998

By Robert M. Hausman

New Nation-Wide Gun Buying Regulations Going Into Effect

Special Report: Buying Firearms Under The National Instant Criminal Background Check System

The year of 1998 will not go in gundom history as being one of the more favorable to gunowners. What with the federal imposition of a new ban on imported firearms, the domestic firearms manufacturing industry in a recession, and the ludicrous new government edict requiring gun dealers to post signs in their shops warning customers of the dangers of firearms, it almost seemed things couldn’t be worse. But there were some bright spots, particularly on the local level.

Most significantly, 1998 is the year marking the start of the implementation of the permanent provisions of the Brady Law, which on November 30, do away with the five day waiting period on handgun sales and in its stead impose a national electronic system for instantaneously checking the qualifications of all gun buyers, including rifle and shotgun purchasers, at the point-of-sale from now on.

Certainly the most critical issue facing industry and consumers alike, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will run the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) out of a facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Gun dealers will access the system via telephone or by computer modem and after providing information on the prospective gun buyer, will either be given an indication to proceed or decline the sale, based on whether or not disqualifying records were found on the prospective buyer.

The new regulations affect not only those buying new guns but also people redeeming pawned firearms from pawnbrokers will have to submit to the background check as well. Those with criminal records will be denied the return of their pawned firearm. Shooters retrieving repaired firearms from gunsmiths will also have to undergo a background check, with the possibility that if criminal records are found, such persons will not be able to receive their own repaired firearms.

At press time, the FBI was proposing to charge gun buyers a fee of $13 to $16 each time a background check is performed. The FBI says the fee is needed to pay for the system’s operation.

Firearm manufacturers and retailers have expressed great concerns about the effect of the background check fee, which would come on top of the sales tax. Many feel the additional check fee will result in a disincentive for consumers to purchase firearms. Makers of lower-priced handguns were adversely affected by the background check fees imposed in some states and localities by local officials when the Brady Law was first implemented as such fees often added up to one third of the basic cost of the gun.

The new regulations go into effect at the height of the hunting season and the effect on sportsmen buying hunting arms, many of whom have never before had to pay a license fee of any kind to own or purchase a hunting rifle or shotgun, remains to be seen.

The FBI says its goal is to perform the checks within 30 seconds, but the agency is saying some checks may take up to three days in cases where there is difficulty in accessing a potential gun buyer’s background information. This delay would have the effect of creating a waiting period, although the system is supposed to function “instantly.” An appeals process is available to those denied purchases. And then there is the problem of the FBI’s proposal to retain NICS records for up to two years, supposedly for “auditing” purposes, although federal law prohibits any federal government agency from maintaining a list of gun buyers names and thereby creating a national firearms registration list.

Each individual background check would be valid for the purchase of an unlimited number of firearms in one transaction. But a separate purchase conducted even the same day would require a separate background check and the payment of the $13 to $16 fee a second time. On the bright side, the in-store sale of rifles and shotguns to out-of-state buyers will continue. Licensed dealers and those persons holding valid state issued firearms possession or concealed weapons permits which involved a background check and were issued prior to November 30, 1998 while being valid for not longer than five years, will be the only persons not subject to the new provisions. State and local firearms permits issued after that date must have subjected permit-holders to a NICS background check to qualify the permit-holder for exemption from the federal background check procedures in place at the time of a firearms purchase.

New Import Gun Ban

In early April, President Clinton imposed a new ban on 58 imported firearms dubbed “assault weapons” based on the guns’ failure to meet “sporting purposes” import criteria. An Administration official bragged about the move as allowing his administration to take “the law and bending it as far as we can to capture a whole new class of guns.”

The banned firearms included versions of the AK-47, Uzi, Galil, FN-FAL, H&K 91 and 93, SKS, and other semi-auto rifles modified with the addition of thumbhole stocks, and elimination of features such as flash hiders and bayonet lugs to comply with the import criteria established by the Clinton Administration in its 1994 imported rifle ban.

Although Clinton claimed a “loophole” in federal law allowed the importation of the affected long guns over the last several years, the manufacturers and importers involved were actually only complying with the law in making changes to the affected gun models. Thus, after the manufacturers removed objectionable features from their firearms, Clinton changed the definitions by claiming they represented a “loophole.”

While police officials surrounded the President when he announced the ban, not all police groups support the initiative. Jim Fotis, executive director of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America pointed out, “So-called assault weapons are used in less than 1% of violent crimes. The President is using smoke and mirrors to make bad policy that will do nothing to save lives, but steal the rights of America’s law-abiding gun owners.”

The rationales for the ban is that the modified rifles can still accept so-called high capacity magazines manufactured before the 1994 Clinton ban on further manufacture of over 10-round capacity magazines for the civilian market.

Gun Production Down

The net effect of the federal anti-gun initiatives over the last several years, particularly the Brady Law that imposed a national five-day waiting period on handgun sales, has been a curtailment in production of firearms due to reduced demand.

The latest available figures on domestic firearm production compiled by the U.S. Treasury Department reveal that in 1996, U.S. manufacture of handguns, as well as shotguns fell, while rifle production increased slightly over 1995 totals.

Total pistol production declined to 985,533 units in 1996, down from 1,195,266 manufactured in 1995 and 2,014,336 in 1994. Similarly, revolver production dropped to just 498,944 wheelguns in 1996, from the 527,664 built in 1995 and 586,450 in 1994.

The total number of shotguns manufactured in the U.S. during 1996 came to 925,732, down from 1,173,645 made in 1995 and 1,254,926 in 1994. Rifle production, however, climbed to 1,424,319 guns for 1996, up from 1,331,780 produced in 1995 and 1,349,116 made in 1994.

The figures show the Brady Law has taken a heavy toll on the sale of small pocket pistols mostly commonly purchased for self-defense. For example, manufacture of .25 caliber pocket pistols declined to 41,156 in 1996, from 51,025 in 1995 and 110,732 in 1994.

Production of .22 caliber pistols is also showing large declines over the last several years. Just 204,819 such .22 caliber rimfire pistols were made in the U.S. in 1996, compared to 260,059 in 1995 and 456,490 in 1994.

By caliber, the greatest amount of pistol production in 1996 was for those products chambered in 9mm, while in revolvers, .357 Magnum chambered guns lead the way.

Looking at long guns, Sturm, Ruger & Co. finished 1996 as America’s top rifle maker with 417,310 units, compared to second-place Marlin Firearms Co. with 350,897 rifles.

Among shotgun makers, Remington Arms Co. continued its three-year streak as the number one shotgun maker with 307,803 scatterguns produced. O.F. Mossberg & Sons held the second-place position with 286,033 units.

While long gun makers were not negatively affected by the Brady Law’s gun buyer waiting period and background check provisions until now, as mentioned, the new permanent Brady Law provisions going into effect in November 1998 will affect long gun sales in addition to handguns. It remains to be seen what effect the new regulations will have on rifle and shotgun sales.

Warning Signs

Firearms buyers will now be noticing some ominous signage displayed within their favorite gun shops thanks to a publicity stunt President Clinton pulled off in July in an attempt to scare off folks considering purchasing firearms.

Clinton’s edict requires dealers to post signs stating: The misuse of handguns is a leading contributor to juvenile violence and fatalities; Safely storing and securing firearms away from children will help prevent the unlawful possession of handguns by juveniles, stop accidents, and save lives.

Other signs detail federal law prohibitions against possession of handguns (in most circumstances) by persons under 18, as well as the possibility of the imposition of a 10-year prison sentence to those knowingly transferring a handgun (even temporarily) to a minor.

It should be noted that under federal law, a youngster who wishes to engage in some handgun target shooting on a range must have in his or her possession a note written by a parent or guardian authorizing the youngster to be in possession of the handgun while engaged in such target practice.

Pro-Gun Victories

On the positive side, a major anti-gun initiative with potential for nation-wide repercussions was defeated during the year in the state of Washington. In one of its most onerous provisions, Washington’s Initiative 676 would have required not only all handgun owners to pass a competency test but would have mandated all adult members in a handgun-owning household to pass the same firearms competency test. Those not passing muster would have had to surrender their firearms.

Six weeks before the votes were cast, polls indicated residents supported the measure by a 60% majority, but thanks to the feverish efforts of pro-gun lobbyists to fully-inform the public, the proposal was defeated by the voters in a resounding 71% against versus 39% for (the law).

And in a late-breaking development occurring as this magazine goes to the printer, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment prohibiting the FBI from charging fees for gun buyer background checks when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System goes on line. The amendment also allowed those wrongfully denied the purchase of firearms to sue the FBI. In addition, it calls for the immediate destruction of all records related to background checks conducted on law-abiding citizens purchasing firearms which the FBI had proposed to keep for “auditing purposes” for up to 24 months.

Another Senate amendment mandating trigger locks be provided with all handguns sold in the U.S., was defeated. And in a 69 to 31 vote, the Senate defeated yet another amendment that would have held adult gun owners criminally liable if a juvenile stole a firearm from them and used the gun in a crime.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N3 (December 1998)
and was posted online on October 7, 2016

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