Industry News: January 1998

By The Small Arms Review Editorial Staff

Colt Out Of FN Acquisition For Now

Following lengthy negotiations during the past several months between New Colt Holding Corp. and the Walloon Region of Belgium which owns eight percent of the shares of the FN Group-manufacturer of military small arms under the Fabrique National banner, it has been announced by the Walloonian government that no agreement could be reached.

As a result, the Walloon Region has made an offer to purchase French government controlled GIAT Industries’ ninety-two percent ownership of FN under the same terms and conditions as had been agreed to with Colt. Donald Zilkha, Colt’s chairman, confirmed he is out of the running for the deal during an interview with SAR, but indicated he may become involved once again if the Walloon region’s bid is unsuccessful. FN, in addition to its military arms plants in Europe and South Carolina, also owns the sporting arms manufacturing facilities of Browning and Winchester licensee U.S. Repeating Arms Co.

UN Happenings

In other international news, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy recently has declared 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’ General Assembly, Axworthy labeled small arms as the “true weapons of mass terror...(whose) proliferation undermines the security and development efforts of many developing countries.”

The United Nations, Axworthy believes, should use the expertise gained through the land mines treaty to take on this issue. “All too often,” he told the representatives of the member nations, “It is small arms...that cause the greatest bloodshed today.”

While Axworthy was calling for more international gun control efforts, gun owners in Australia and Great Britain were busy surrendering their firearms to government officials. Australians had until September 30 to hand over all their semi-automatic long and hand guns. Their new law also creates a national registry of guns, and requires gun owners to justify possession of any firearm. Meanwhile, gun owners are flocking to the Australian version of the National Rifle Association-the Sporting Shooters Association-which reports as much as a 400% increase in membership in some states. In Great Britain, the government has begun to collect all handguns of .22 caliber and above.

The United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, a 16-nation group, has recommended the U.N. convene a global conference on what is being called “small arms trafficking.” In the hope of reducing what the panel describes as the “excessive accumulation of guns” in the world, the group’s report recommended the U.N. a) support destruction of small arms left over once conflicts are settled, b) study the feasibility of high-tech “marking” of firearms from the time of manufacture for the purpose of tracing, and, c) study the possibility of restricting the production and trade of small arms to manufacturers and dealers and establish a global database of licensees.

The U.N. alone cannot dictate American laws and policy without Congressional consent as the U.S. Senate must pass all international treaties by a two-thirds vote. In apparent support of the panel’s directives, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “This report recommends a set of practical measures to reduce the weapons already in circulation and to prevent future accumulations.”

President Clinton has made Argentina a special military ally, saying he wanted the country to become America’s first non-NATO military ally in the Western hemisphere. The decision will allow Argentina priority access to surplus U.S. military equipment.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has begun work on strengthening her so-called “assault weapons” ban that passed as part of President Clinton’s 1994 Crime Law. Feinstein has urged the Clinton-Gore White House to help “close loopholes that have facilitated the proliferation of thousands of the fearsome rapid-fire guns.”

The Senator’s first goal is to convince U.S. officials and the Israeli government to block the importation of semi-auto Uzi and Galil rifles which have been lawfully modified to meet U.S. import standards. They are intended to be imported by U.S. firearms maker O.F. Mossberg. Feinstein is reported to have written directly to Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to intercede.

A provision in the Treasury Appropriations bill-known as the Murtha amendment- was stripped from the bill prior to final passage recently. This amendment sought to force the State Department to cease impeding lawful import permits for US origin curio and relic firearms.

In other military related news, six marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were arrested recently as part of a nationwide investigation into the theft of military weapons, including rocket launchers, machine guns, mines, mortars and grenades. Federal undercover agents bought large quantities of weapons and ammunition during an 18-month investigation, the Associated Press quoted William Perry, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Charlotte, N.C. office. Much of the ordnance was stolen from Camp Lejeune.

Investigators executing a search warrant at the home of a Marine in Millis, Massachusetts (about 30 miles southwest of Boston), reportedly recovered at least 10 boxes and crates with military markings containing mortars, grenades and ammunition.

Seven North Carolina civilians were also arrested and charged with a variety of offenses stemming from the illegal manufacture and distribution of weapons, particularly automatic arms, as part of the investigation. Two of the civilians arrested were identified by the FBI as weapons dealers. In Washington, Defense Secretary William Cohen said he has asked the armed services to review their security procedures.

Newark, New Jersey, a city beleaguered by scandal, crime and poverty, has acquired a 10,000-pound military tank courtesy of the U.S. Defense Department. Reuters reports the vehicle is of the kind 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 inside buildings,” police department spokesman Sgt. Derek Glenn said. “It’s a piece of equipment that will provide police officers with better protection.”

The tank-called the “Peacekeeper”- has seven gun ports, a machinegun turret, can carry up to five passengers, and can travel at highway speeds. It was a gift to the city from the Defense Department 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 tank 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.”

Handgun News

Charter Arms products will be coming back on the market soon, says Nick Ecker, a company executive. The firm has established facilities in Shelton, CT and will be offering a new stainless steel version of its Off Duty .38 Special snub nose revolver under the Chartco 2000 corporate banner. The famous .22 rimfire semi-auto AR7 survival rifle is coming back as well under the corporate entity of AR7 L.L.C. Both products are planned to be exhibited at the 1998 S.H.O.T. Show in Las Vegas.

A series of class action suits may be brought to recover the monies paid by handgun buyers to various states and localities for handgun buyer background check fees under the Brady Law.

Attorney Stephen P. Halbrook of Fairfax, Virginia is seeking data from firearms dealers in Brady states where handgun buyer background check fees were or are still being imposed. Halbrook is the lawyer who successfully argued the case of Printz v. U.S. in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government cannot compel local police to determine whether prospective handgun buyers are fit to own a handgun.

“There was no provision in the original Brady Law for the imposition of gun buye background check fees and those states and localities which imposed these fees, did so without any lawful basis,” Halbrook says.

“In Ohio,” Halbrook continued, “the background checks are performed at the state level and they are charging $13 per check. I have corresponded with the Ohio State Attorney General and they said they are relying on a provision of law providing for the collection of a fee for persons requesting a copy of their criminal records. But that provision does not apply as gun buyers are not voluntarily requesting the background checks be performed.”

“I am encouraging firearms dealers not to send in these fees. There is no civil or criminal action that could be brought against a dealer for not paying these fees. This is just a shakedown,” he declared.

Halbrook is seeking input from firearms dealers in areas where buyer background check fees have or are still being imposed. He may be reached at (703) 352- 7276.

Legislation which would have banned affordable self-defense handguns and could have led to a ban on all handguns, was vetoed in late-September by California Governor Pete Wilson. The measure, sponsored by State Senator Richard Polanco, would have required all handguns, prior to sale or manufacture in California, to undergo safety testing by a state approved laboratory. Wilson expressed concern about limiting the access of lower income citizens to affordable personal protection.

Machinegun Decisions

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

Both appeals relied heavily on a 1995 Supreme Court ruling that threw 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 case at issue, 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 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. That ruling was upheld by an 8-8 vote of the entire Fifth Circuit court last February.

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. U.S., 96-1738, and Kirk vs. U.S., 96-1759.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N4 (January 1998)
and was posted online on October 13, 2017


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