From: The Honorable Eliot L. Engel
Sent By:
Date: 12/21/2015

Stop the Import of Assault Weapons into the U.S.
Sign a letter to President Obama calling for tough enforcement of the Assault Weapon Import Ban

Current Signers (4): Conyers, Engel, Serrano, Speier

Supported by the Violence Policy Center

Right now, it is nominally illegal under federal law to import an assault rifle into the United States. This has been the case since the enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968. But imported assault rifles still make up a major portion of weapons identified in criminal prosecutions in the United States, and a significant portion of weapons seized in Mexico are AK-47 variants that arrive in Mexico after being imported into the United States.

Gun manufacturers are allowed to import AK-47s and other assault weapons into the U.S. – even though Congress hasn’t changed the law – because President George W. Bush introduced a number of major loopholes into the assault weapon import ban through executive action. Right now, cosmetic changes are enough to allow an AK-47 to be treated as a sporting weapon. These weapons then make their way into our communities where they can do major damage.

Last year, more than 80 Members of the House joined ten Senators to ask President Obama to use his existing authority to roll back the last administration’s changes to the assault weapon import ban and restore tough enforcement. I am writing to the President in the coming days to renew this request. The text of this letter is below. If you have any questions, or if you would like to join the letter, please reach out to Lewis Kaminski ( in my office.


Eliot L. Engel


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. President:

We write today in strong support of your plans to take executive action to expand background checks on the sale of guns, and we respectfully renew our request that your administration return to the strong enforcement of the ban on imports of military-style assault weapons that was in effect during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

With more than a mass shooting on average each day this year in this country, and remembering the many thousands of Americans who have died as a result of gun violence just since the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut three years ago, we believe strongly that we as the people’s representatives must do what we can to stem the tide of dangerous weapons flowing into the hands of dangerous people.

Expanding background checks to include additional gun sellers is an important step, and we welcome recent reports that your administration is planning to take that step. But, in accordance with the Gun Control Act of 1968, we respectfully ask that you also consider tightening significantly the rules that currently allow for the importation into the U.S. of military-style assault weapons.

The Gun Control Act prohibits the importation into the United States of any firearm that is not “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has already said that this import ban includes “semiautomatic assault rifles” with “military configuration features.”

Unfortunately, current guidance treats these terms too narrowly, focusing only on the inclusion of specific parts and components. This scheme risks losing sight of the threat posed by such powerful weapons, which were designed for the military and clearly have no sporting purpose. Further, focusing on parts and components creates a loophole whereby minor cosmetic changes to a non-sporting weapon can permit its import.

Current guidance allows, for example, the free importation into the U.S. of variants on the AK-47 assault rifle. Weapons like these flow throughout the United States and Mexico by both legal and illegal channels. They make up a major portion of weapons identified in criminal prosecutions in the United States, and nearly one in five weapons seized at crime scenes in Mexico are AK-47 variants trafficked into that country after being imported through the U.S.

It’s time to develop a new policy that will strengthen enforcement of the Gun Control Act and eliminate these loopholes. In response to similar circumstances, previous administrations have undertaken administrative reviews to determine which additional dangerous weapons should be prohibited from importation. In April of 2014, more than 90 Members of Congress from the House and Senate wrote to ask you to consider tightening these restrictions using your existing authority. Again, we welcome the news that your administration is moving quickly to expand background checks by executive action. But today we renew our request that your administration use similar action to address the importation of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons.

We are all familiar by now with how popular weapons like these are among terrorists and mass shooters. Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, Robert Dear, Muhammad Abdulazeez and others used semiautomatic assault rifles to kill and wound dozens in the name of their warped ideologies. Stemming the flow of these weapons into the United States would help to temper the danger these weapons pose, and so we thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.