The U.S. State Department has barred South Korea from selling nearly 1 million antique guns to eager U.S. collectors and enthusiasts.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., wants to change that.
On Tuesday she introduced a bill in Congress that would lift a nearly three-year ban imposed by the Obama administration that blocked imports of M1 rifles made in the U.S. and shipped overseas during the Korean War.
The guns, once standard issue for U.S. soldiers, would arrive back in the U.S. and be sold to civilian marksmanship programs that would then distribute them to individual buyers.
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms rules usually allow guns older than 50 years to be imported into the country. But because the guns were given to South Korea during the war, State Department permission is required, according to ATF guidelines.
“It’s disappointing that legislation is even necessary to allow U.S. citizens to access perfectly legal and regulated firearms, in this case storied, U.S.-made rifles that are pieces of U.S. military history,” Lummis said in a press release on Wednesday. “This is a political stunt on the part of the State Department, pure and simple, while denying the exercise of Second Amendment rights by law-abiding citizens, firearm collectors, and
competitive marksman. The State Department has no business blocking domestic firearm ownership; they are way out of bounds and my legislation will put them back in their place.”
The State Department didn’t respond to Star-Tribune requests for comment.
The stockpile is sought after by gun enthusiasts and veterans across the country. The weapons are used for marksmanship competitions and military ceremonies.
This isn’t the first time South Korea’s offered to sell the guns. The Reagan Administration allowed 200,000 M1 rifles from South Korea to be sold in the U.S. in 1987. In 2010, South Korea offered to sell back 87,310 M1 “Garand” rifles and 770,160 M1 carbines. The State Department initially gave the OK to South Korea, but then reversed its decision.
Lummis sponsored similar legislation in 2010 with Sen. John Tester, D-Mont. The State Department publicly stated it wouldn’t lift the ban because it said the guns could be used for “illicit purposes.”
For Lummis and Tester that wasn’t enough.
The two wrote the department a letter to demand a better explanation. There were worries from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the White House and the Justice Department that the M1 carbine could be “converted into a fully automatic rifle,” according to a letter sent to Lummis from the State Department two years ago.
The Lummis and Tester legislation failed. The State Department hinted it would have let the M1 Garands enter the country in late 2011, but the deal never panned out.
Gun-rights advocates claim the ban is just one more push by the federal government to impede the Second Amendment.
“There is a fear of average people owning guns,” said Erich Pratt, director of communications for Gun Owners of America. “The administration has been in many ways trying to slice and dice our rights from us. This was another attempt at doing so.”
The federal government’s attempt to start a shotgun import ban while imposing new registration requirements on handguns and long-barreled rifles near international borders have all come without congressional approval under the Obama administration.
“The administration has tried various arguments for nickel and diming us,” Pratt said.