April 6, 1998
At a White House ceremony today, President Clinton issued an executive order that permanently bans the import of over 50 types of foreign-made assault weapons. Elizabeth Farnsworth and guests discuss the ban.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
November 4, 1997
The State of Washington attempts to tighten its gun control laws.
June 27, 1997
The ruling striking down mandatory background checks.
January 9, 1997:
A report on federal gun control laws.
December 3, 1996:
The debate on gun control and the Brady Bill.
March 22, 1996:
Shields & Gigot debate the House's vote to repeal the assault weapons ban.
March 21, 1996:
Two members of the House debate repealing the assault weapons ban.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
National Rifle Association
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Today's executive order permanently bans the importation of more than 50 types of assault weapons, primarily modifications of the AK-47 and the Israeli Uzi but also including other models. The ban comes after a review by the Treasury Department, which oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. At a White House Rose Garden event Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin explained what led to today's executive order.
ROBERT RUBIN, Secretary of the Treasury: A key element of the president's strategy to fight crime has been his action to make it harder for criminals to get guns, particularly semiautomatic assault weapons. We at Treasury are proud to be heavily involved in this effort through the enforcement of federal firearms laws by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.
As part of its responsibilities, in 1989, ATF prohibited the importation into the United States of a series of semiautomatic assault rifles, which had specified military features, because these weapons were not sporting weapons. The 1989 decision, along with the 1994 assault weapons ban have made it harder for criminals to obtain semiautomatic assault weapons; however, as long as these other militarized features were removed, neither measure prevented rifles with the ability to accept large capacity military magazines which fire large numbers of bullets in a very short time frame without reloading from entering our country.
Today we are taking steps to stop the flow of these deadly rapid-firing weapons by prohibiting the importation of designated semiautomatic rifles that have the ability to accept large capacity military magazines. Our decision today stems from a comprehensive review conducted by the Treasury Department and the ATF.
This review was a result of concerns, including those raised by several members of Congress. Nearly 10 years have passed since the last comprehensive review, and during this time, dangerous new rifles have been developed. This decision will in no way affect the importation of true, sporting firearms. But it will prohibit the importation of dangerous weapons that are attracted to criminals.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now two perspectives on today's executive order: Rahm Emmanuel is senior adviser to the president for policy and strategy, and Tanya Metaksa is the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Ms. Metaksa, what's your reaction to this ban?
"Less than one percent of these guns are used in crime, the same numbers we had in 1994."
TANYA METAKSA, National Rifle Association: Well, it just shows you want happens when people try to design guns by passing a gun ban and then two years later come back and say, gee whiz, that didn't work, so we're going to stretch that gun ban, as was stated by Joseph Serto of this administration back in October.
They're going to stretch it as far as they can until it bends. Well, here we have it again, the same rhetoric as in 1994, and it doesn't mean anything for the simple reason that these aren't guns that are used in crime. Less than one percent of these guns are used in crime, the same numbers we had in 1994. It's the president being not honest with the American people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Ms. Metaksa, these guns are used for sporting events and sporting--I mean, in hunting?
TANYA METAKSA: These guns are used by people for sporting events, for hunting, and for self-defense. It's interesting to note that one gentleman who used it testified before Congress, was accosted by two strangers, and his fellow hunter was laying, wounded on the ground, and he used this to save the life of himself and his friend. These are guns that are used by honest, law-abiding citizens and are very rarely used in crime.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Rahm Emmanuel, how do you respond to this?
RAHM EMMANUEL, President's Senior Adviser: Elizabeth, the president--you know, I respect Tanya, and she represents a particular interest, the president's job is to represent the national interest. And weapons he dealt with today are military weapons, not sporting weapons. You know, when we did the--the Treasury Department did the survey, they consulted with over 2,000 people and the sporting guides and the hunting guides that they interviewed, approximately 200 of them, 95 percent did not recommend this weapon for hunting.
This is not a hunting--these aren't hunting weapons. These aren't sporting weapons. These weapons were meant for one purpose. They're military weapons. And the president's decision today represents what other presidents have done--Democrat and Republican--in using the 1968 law to ban the importation of certain weapons that don't meet the sporting purposes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Emmanuel, let's back up just one minute.
RAHM EMMANUEL: Sure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms did grant a number, tens of thousands of licenses, no, for importing these weapons last year, is that right?
RAHM EMMANUEL: That's correct, that's right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why did they do that? They felt that they did come within the confines of the law?
"Those weapons were designed for one purpose-- military-- and they don't belong on our street."
RAHM EMMANUEL: At that point they felt they did. What the president did on November 15, 1997, is put a temporary halt to study whether, in fact, they met the purposes, which comes under the 1968 law dealing with the category of sporting. Democrat and Republican presidents--President Johnson, Presidents Reagan and Bush and also President Clinton have used that law to actually ban the importation of weapons that don't meet the sporting laws. These weapons--the Uzi and the AK-47--and others are military weapons.
They are not sporting weapons, and it's clearly within his authority to do exactly that. And there is no purpose for a weapon like the AK-47 on our streets that accept rounds in the 20, 30, 40, in some cases 100 rounds at a case. A lot of hunting--in many states they're limited for hunting purposes to three or four or five rounds, not twenty, thirty, or forty. Those weapons were designed for one purpose-- military-- and they don't belong on our street.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Metaksa, how many--how are importers accepted by this? How many import licenses that had been granted are we talking about?
TANYA METAKSA: We're talking about an awful lot of import licenses. We're talking about small businesses being impacted, but let me just go back to what Mr. Emmanuel said. Basically, you have to understand, these guns were designed by the criteria in the president's own law. These aren't guns that have a loophole. They were designed to meet the president's criteria. And now he's stretching that criteria. And we're going to see a lot of small businesses go out of business because of this unilateral stoppage of these people's import permits, even though they got them legally and through all the necessary channels in our government.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Ms. Metaksa, how do you respond to the people who say, well, there was a gun, and they just took the bayonet off of it, and that made it fit in under the law, at least in perhaps not really but it looked like it did, how do you respond to that?
TANYA METAKSA: Well, the law was designed by President Clinton. He said what really was supposed to be on or off the gun. The manufacturers complied with that law. We always said this was cosmetic; it didn't make a difference. These were semiautomatic rifles that function exactly the same way no matter what kind of cosmetics you have on them, and we were right. The president is now trying to bend the law as far as he can to now ban more and more firearms.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that, Mr. Emmanuel, that they were trying to comply with the law, now you've just changed the law?
RAHM EMMANUEL: Elizabeth, in 1989, President Bush banned 43 semiautomatic rifles because of certain features that they had that didn't fit under the sporting category; they fit under the military category. Second, in 1994, the President of the United States passed the assault weapons ban that dealt with 19 particular weapons. It fathered--it grandfathered in 650 specific weapons, which none of these are affected, and that law also dealt with a large capacity magazine of more than 10--or larger than 10 ammunition rounds.
And what we're doing here in 1998 is dealing with the importation of the AK-47 and Uzi-type weapons, 59 in particular, that don't fall under the sporting category and don't meet that category because of the large capacity magazine. And second point I'd like to make the point is, you know, in--about two years ago when Charleston Heston was nominated and elected to the board of the NRA, he himself said in an interview in San Francisco it was inappropriate for a personal ownership of the AK-47 because he knew then--and he was speaking his honest mind there before he was yanked back--that the AK-47 is a military weapon, it is not a sporting weapon.
And in the process of reviewing this, when the ATF went out and interviewed people, we had comments from over 2,000 people, the people who deal with sporting guides and hunting guides, 95 percent of them said they never recommend this weapon--these weapons.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Emmanuel, responding to something else that Ms. Metaksa said, what is the evidence on whether banning the assault weapons has cut down on the number of criminals using them.
The president's strategy to fight crime.
RAHM EMMANUEL: Well, there's no doubt--I mean, first of all, I think it was--that's kind of a false choice--in this sense, you have to have a comprehensive strategy dealing with crime, which is the approach the President of the United States has taken. If all I said to you was the Brady Bill is our only effort on crime, well, that had an impact and no doubt in preventing criminals from getting handguns because of the waiting period.
The assault weapons ban has been the weapon of choice for a lot of gang members--there's no doubt about that--that has had an impact. A hundred thousand new community police officers on the street has had an impact on crime. Targeted deterrence and tougher laws like the three strikes you're out have had an impact on crime. Better prevention programs like the Boys & Girls Club has had an impact on crime. Dealing with certain drugs has had an impact on crime. You can't hang an entire anti-crimes strategy on one piece.
It's an entire strategy that deals with putting more cops on the street and getting criminals, drugs, and guns off the street, and that's the approach the president has taken. And, in fact, this is a piece of a larger strategy the president's put in place, and I don't think it's accidental over the five-year period of time since the president put in place that strategy, and on the local level put the resources there, and police on the beat, that we've had a dramatic drop in crime.
It is a part of a comprehensive strategy and to isolate one piece from the other and say that's not working is not (a) honest and (b) it's not the strategy the president's put in place with the result that you're seeing in neighborhoods across this country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Metaksa, please respond to that and also, what comes next for the NRA, how can you fight this current ban?
TANYA METAKSA: Well, first of all, this president has been notorious about not prosecuting criminals. They talk about the Brady Bill but do you know they prosecuted seven people for breaking that law when they tout numbers in the hundreds of thousands and only three of them are serving jail time? What a deterrent! That's absurd! This president has a passion for banning guns. It's not his only passion, but it's one of the high priority passions. What are we going to do? We believe it's the Congress who makes the laws that deal with firearms, and we're going to go to the Congress to try to turn this back and stop this elasticizing of the gun ban. This is an elastic ban that should be stopped, and we're going to work toward that end.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Ms. Metaksa, are you concerned that more will come if this isn't stopped, or what do you think would be next?
TANYA METAKSA: Is President Clinton going to ban more guns? You betcha! He's going to try to figure out what guns he can ban, and he's going to try to stretch that law as far as he can. He's doing it one gun at a time, and it may be one gun that I own or somebody else owns next.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Rahm Emmanuel, your response to that and perhaps legal action.
RAHM EMMANUEL: Well, I would think this: One is the President of the United States will continue to ensure--and Tanya has a right to represent the National Rifle Association, which is a special interest and a particular interest--the president has got to represent the national interest, and take an entire look at what we've got to do to make our streets safe.
Second of all, this president grew up hunting, and he knows the difference and Tanya knows full well he knows the difference between hunting and sporting versus what happens on our streets, and these weapons have nowhere and do not belong on the streets of America. They were never designed for those purposes.
They were designed for one purpose only and that's military purpose. And third, I want to be clear about something, is that the weapons we are talking about are only designed for one purpose, and when it came to the Brady Bill, the NRA fought the president tooth and nail, and over 200,000 criminals have been denied the access of those weapons, and that law has worked, much to the--much to the shock of the NRA, who put around a lot of propaganda saying it would work. It did work. And the assault weapons ban has been effective.
And these people keep putting up a lot of smokescreens saying, none of these laws will work, but I note that after years and years of spiraling increase in crime, it's finally been five years in a row a drop and dramatically in violent crime, and the gun laws on the books that we have that President Clinton passed has had a role in that, and much to their chagrin.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, thank you both very much for being with us.
TANYA METAKSA: Thank you.
RAHM EMMANUEL: Thank you.