Press Releases

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein urged President Obama to prohibit the importation of military-style assault firearms that contribute to violence in the United States and Mexico.

Following is the text of the letter from Senator Feinstein to President Obama:

January 31, 2011

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I write to urge you to review enforcement of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) provision, 18 U.S. Code Section 925(d)(3), which prohibits the importation of firearms except those that are “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”  Previous Administrations have used this authority to limit the importation of military-style assault firearms, and it could once again be a helpful tool in preventing the gun trafficking that is fueling the horrific gun violence in Mexico, the Southwest border region, and many cities and towns across our nation.

Since December 2006, more than 30,000 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence.  Every day, there are reports of ruthless and brutal gun murders as Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) fight for control of smuggling routes and terrorize anyone who might get in their way.  The DTOs have killed mayors, judges, and other officials who have tried to stop the carnage.  They have even targeted young people, murdering 14 teenagers at a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez in October of last year. 

Regrettably, firearms trafficked from the United States help fuel the violence in Mexico.  Of the firearms recovered by the Government of Mexico and traced through ATF in the past 4 years, more than 50,000 were manufactured in, or imported into, the United States prior to being recovered in Mexico.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other federal, state and local law enforcement are working to stop this gun trafficking and related violence, but they need additional help.  The Administration recently took an important step forward with ATF’s initiative to collect information on multiple sales of semi-automatic assault rifles from Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  I applaud you for this initiative.  However, much more must be done. 

Under the GCA, the Administration has the authority to prohibit the importation of non-sporting firearms.  In 1989, in response to growing drug gang violence, the ATF under President George H.W. Bush denied applications to import a series of semiautomatic rifles that it found were designed and intended to be particularly suitable for combat rather than sporting applications.  Similarly, in 1997, President Clinton used this authority and ordered ATF to conduct an expedited review to determine whether modified semiautomatic assault-type rifles were properly importable under the statutory sporting purposes test.  In April 1998, ATF determined that rifles with the ability to accept a detachable large capacity military magazine “are not generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes and are therefore not importable.” 

Since the Clinton Administration’s efforts, the GCA’s prohibition against non-sporting firearms has not been aggressively enforced, and many military-style, non-sporting rifles have flowed into the United States civilian market.  Some of the rifles are cheap AK-type variants from former Eastern bloc countries, while others are more expensive, high-tech weapons.  All of them, however, share military-style characteristics that should make them ineligible for import.  Furthermore, it appears that some importers are bringing in rifle parts and reassembling them with a small number of domestically manufactured components.  This practice has gone unchecked, despite Section 922 (r) of the GCA, which prohibits using imported parts to assemble any semiautomatic rifle or any shotgun which is identical to any rifle or shotgun prohibited from importation under 18 U.S. Code Section 925(d)(3). 

I urge you to review enforcement of the GCA and take any regulatory steps necessary to stop the both the importation of all military-style, non-sporting firearms, and the assembly of those firearms from imported parts.  We must ensure that law enforcement has all the necessary resources and tools needed to stop the gun violence that is taking a deadly toll in Mexico and in our country.  I look forward to working with you toward that goal.  Thank you for your attention to this urgent issue.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

cc:  Eric Holder, Attorney General
       Kenneth Melson, Acting Director of the ATF