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Industry News: March 1998

By Robert M. Hausman

FN Group Sold To Belgians

The long anticipated sale of the FN Group, consisting of Browning, Winchester licensee U.S. Repeating Arms Co. and Fabrique Nationale was completed November 21, 1997. The sale from French government-owned defense contractor GIAT Industries to the Walloon Region of Belgium gives them 100% ownership from their previous 8%.

The Walloon Region named Philippe Tenneson as chairman and chief executive officer. Don Gobel, previously president and chief executive officer of Browning, North America and U.S. Repeating Arms Co. is now in charge of the Worldwide Browning/ U.S. Repeating Arms Co. Products Business Unit.

“We are excited as we begin this new phase in our history,” said Gobel. “We will continue to provide our customers with superior products and customer service. Both Browning and Winchester are names that are synonymous with quality, value and longevity.”

New Colt Holding Corp., a business entity set up by Colt’s Manufacturing Co. had made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the FN Group earlier in 1997.

Colt’s president Ronald Stewart says the firm is in the final stages of its grant application to the National Institute of Justice to obtain funding for its “Smart Gun” technology which will be built into a forthcoming new handgun intended for the police market. The electronic technology allows only a predetermined authorized user to fire the handgun and is intended to prevent criminals from using a handgun snatched from an officer. While Colt’s has shown prototype handguns equipped with a user recognition feature, the technology is expected to take two to three years of additional research to perfect.

Colt unveiled a polymer-framed pistol at the 1997 SHOT Show which it had dubbed the Law Enforcement Pistol and said it was developed to meet all the needs and concerns of officers in a duty sidearm. However, the firm has since moved away from that plastic framed design and is now working on a Law Enforcement Pistol, the frame of which, is apparently composed of other materials.

“When you look at what SIGARMS, Smith & Wesson, and others have done with composites, the way they are pricing their products,” Stewart revealed, “We are certainly interested in the police market -but not at a loss.”

Canadian Push

In other international news, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy recently announced that following his nation’s successful bid to ban anti-personnel land mines, the Canadian government is now turning its attention to “small arms.”

In a speech to the United Nations’ (UN) General Assembly, Axworthy labeled small arms as the “true weapons of mass terror...the proliferation of which undermines the security and developmental efforts of many developing countries.” The UN, he said, should use the expertise gained through the land mines treaty to take on the small arms issue. “All too often,” he said, “it is small arms...that cause the greatest bloodshed today.”

Ivan Gets His Gun

Under a new law, Russians are now allowed to buy rifles for self-defense, so long as they are kept at home. The law is an admission that crime in post-Soviet Russia is out of the control of the police. Only the insane, drug addicts, and convicted criminals may not own a gun.

Debate over the gun law split the Russian parliament along lines that were the opposite of that in America. Liberal democrats were the enthusiastic proponents of wider gun ownership, arguing that personal freedoms should include the right to bear arms. On the other hand, Russia’s conservatives, who count among their supporters the Communist and Agrarian parties, favored strict gun control, saying it is the government’s duty to preserve law and order and claiming wider gun ownership would lead to more violence.

“The state today is unable to defend its citizens,” admits Lt. Col. Yelena Shelkovnikova, a police lawyer. “Until the police are paid properly, the problem of armed crime is not going to be solved, and citizens will have to defend themselves.”

“The law means guns will be used in everyday quarrels,” said Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the Agrarian Party in the Duma (lower house of parliament). “And it will create a situation where people will settle accounts between themselves without law or judge.”

The public has expressed a great deal of anxiety over the wave of lawlessness gripping the country since totalitarian controls imposed by Soviet authorities were relaxed. The number of crimes involving firearms rose more than fourfold, from 3,401 in the entire Soviet Union in 1986, to 12,150 in Russia alone in 1995, according to official figures, which police privately say underestimates the real scale of the problem.

“Criminals are armed to the teeth,” says Mikhail Myen, a liberal Duma deputy who
voted for the bill. “And if when God created us, He created us different, Mr. Colt made us equal,” he announced, paraphrasing the famous gun manufacturer’s slogan.

“I personally oppose the idea of any civilian except a hunter owning a gun,” says Sergei Chuganov, a Duma aide who helped draft the new law. “But on the other hand, when official organizations are unable to protect...private individuals must have the right to defend themselves.”

Chuganov, a former state prosecutor, points to another main aim of the legislation, tightening up on the number of military handguns and automatic weapons in circulation.

With the right connections, one can buy almost any weapon from corrupt Russian Army officers, whether a simple Makarov pistol, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a land mine. All these weapons and more, have been used by hit-men in the past. Hardly a week goes by without news of another contract murder as organized gangs fight over business turf in the newly privatized Russian economy.

At the same time, previously enacted legislation allowed registered bodyguards to carry military arms. The Interior Ministry has no exact figures on how many such arms are in legal circulation, but they are known to number in the tens of thousands. Under the new law, bodyguards are required to hand in their Army-issue guns, which are now deemed offensive weapons, in exchange for less powerful models seen as merely defensive.

The factories making these lesser caliber guns will benefit from the new law. While limiting the import of some foreign guns, “The law is also designed to defend Russian arms manufacturers by stimulating demand,” Chuganov explains. “Liberalized access to guns will create jobs.”

Demand is set to rise even further if another draft law before parliament wins passage. That bill, drawing it’s inspiration from America’s Wild West past, takes the concept of citizens’ self-defense even further by legalizing the formation of volunteer posses of armed vigilantes.

Cops With Tanks

Newark, New Jersey, a city rife with scandal, crime and poverty, has acquired a 10,000-pound military tank courtesy of the U.S. Defense Department, as part of the city’s new crime fighting arsenal. Reuters reports the vehicle is of the type used in the assault by federal agents on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993.

“We will use the vehicle only in cases involving snipers and suspects who barricade themselves into buildings,” police department spokesman Sgt. Derek Glenn said. “It’s a piece of equipment that will provide police officers with better protection. “peacekeeper”, has seven gun ports, a machinegun turret, can carry up to five passengers, and travels at highway speeds. It was a gift to the city from the federal government after it was decommissioned.

The Newark City Council is considering whether to approve use of the tank. Councilman Ronald Rice, who opposes police use of the vehicle said, “Local police departments are focusing too much on military-type training and equipment. I don’t want it to look like we are patrolling the city streets with combat troops.”

Dealer News

Gun dealers who sell firearms to drunk customers can be found liable if those customers cause injuries, Florida’s high court has ruled. The decision came in the case of a former Tampa woman who sued Kmart Corp. for selling a rifle and ammunition to her former boyfriend. He shot her in the neck a half hour later, leaving her a quadriplegic. The Florida justices joined high courts in Mississippi and Washington in allowing negligence claims for selling firearms to intoxicated customers.

During the Florida trial, a Kmart clerk testified she didn’t believe Thomas Knapp was drunk when she sold him the rifle. She acknowledged, however, that he had so much difficulty writing that she had to fill out the 4473 firearms purchaser’s form for him. Knapp had consumed 24 beers and nearly 25 shots of whiskey during the day.

MG Ban Upheld

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected two constitutional challenges to the federal laws regulating ownership and commercial trade in machineguns. The justices, without comment, turned away appeals from Pennsylvania and East Texas challenging Congress’ authority to enact the laws as part of its regulation of interstate commerce.

Both appeals relied on a 1995 Supreme Court ruling throwing out a federal ban on possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of a school. In that decision, the court said the 1990 Gun Free School Zones Act had “nothing to do with commerce or any sort of economic enterprise.” Congress may enact laws under its power to regulate interstate commerce only to control activity “substantially” affecting such commerce, the 1995 ruling said.

In the Pennsylvania gun case, Raymond Rybar, Jr. was convicted of possessing and transferring two machineguns at a Monroeville, Pennsylvania gun show in 1992. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $100. In the Texas case, William Kirk was convicted for violating federal law in 1988 by selling an M-16 near Dripping Springs, Texas. He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and fined $3,000.

Both men challenged the constitutionality of the law used to convict them, but lower courts upheld the law in both cases. In his Supreme Court appeal, Rybar’s lawyers argued that the federal law restricting the possession or transfer of a machinegun fails the standard the Supreme Court set in 1995, since his sale to a fellow Pennsylvanian had no substantial effect on interstate commerce. The appeal said lower court rulings, “have been characterized by uncertainty, confusion and, in some instances, a downright hostile refusal to take the (1995) decision at face value.”

Kirk’s appeal contended the federal law wrongly usurps power from the states. The challenged federal law was upheld in the Pennsylvania case by a 2-1 vote of a three-judge panel for the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Texas challenge was rejected by a 2-1 vote of a three-judge panel in the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In urging the justices to reject the two appeals, Clinton Administration lawyers noted that the six federal appeals courts studying the law have upheld it. “In the absence of a conflict in the circuits, the...conclusion that the statute is constitutional does not warrant this court’s review,” the government lawyers said. The cases are: Rybar vs. US 96-1738 and Kirk vs. US 96-1759.

Charter Arms Back

Charter Arms handgun products are coming back on the market, according to Nick Ecker, a company principal. The new firm, known as Chartco 2000, has established a manufacturing facility in Shelton, CT and will shortly offer a new stainless steel version of its Off Duty .38 Special snub nose revolver. The famous .22 rimfire semi-auto, floating stock AR7 survival rifle is being brought back as well under the corporate entity of AR7 LLC, Ecker adds.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N6 (March 1998)
and was posted online on August 4, 2017

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