On Thursday, Jan. 27, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released a Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns, which proposes that “military shotguns, or shotguns with common military features that are unsuitable for traditional shotgun sports” be prohibited from importation. This would apply to all shotguns—not just semi-automatics. As in previous “working group” studies on rifles, the study fails to give proper credit to the widespread use of these guns in newer shooting sports, or to their adaptability to hunting.
The study underscores the need for Congress to change the firearm importation law. That law requires the Attorney General to approve the importation of any firearm “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” This “sporting purposes” test was imposed by the Gun Control Act in 1968, a time when the right to self-defense with a firearm was not as widely respected by the courts as it is today.
Clearly, the main reason to change the law is that the Second Amendment—as the Supreme Court said in District of Columbia v. Heller—protects our right to keep and bear arms for defense, not for sports. In its 2008 Heller decision, the court observed that “the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right” and ruled that the Second Amendment protects “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” particularly within the home, where “the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute.” The court also dismissed the notion that the amendment doesn’t protect modern arms, saying “Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms.”
Another reason to change the law is to end the BATFE’s 22-year history of misinterpreting it. In 1989, the bureau banned the importation of semi-automatic rifles, claiming they were not used for “organized marksmanship competition.” (In fact, the banned guns were of the type most commonly used by competitors in the most popular marksmanship competitions in the United States—the National Matches, and the hundreds of local, state and regional competitions that precede the national events each year.) In 1998, BATFE expanded the ban, absurdly claiming that semi-automatic rifles’ “suitability for this activity [marksmanship competition] is limited.” At the time, a Clinton White House official said “we’re taking the law and bending it as far as we can to capture a whole new class of guns.”
Now, BATFE is bending the law one more time. As this issue develops, the NRA will be looking at every legislative and legal option to bring our firearms import laws back in line with the Constitution.