The strange saga of the Korean M1s

Last March the Administration took one of its promised “under-the-radar” gun-control positions, by revoking previously granted permits to reimport obsolete, but historic, M1 rifles and carbines from Korea. The weapons, 800,000 to 1,000,000 of them, were used in the 2nd World War and Korean War. They had been retained by Korea as reserve stocks, but such old weapons were hardly needed (the US last issued them to fourth-tier National Guard units over forty years ago, and US stocks have been for sale to the public through the DCM for many years). Now comes a grudging, forced, and partial reversal.

The BATFE classifies these weapons technically as “firearms” but also as “curios and relics,” recognizing that they are collector guns, not likely to turn up at crime scenes (we could not find out when one was last used in a crime, because we could not find an example of one being used in a crime, period). But the administration’s volte-face on the M1s meant that they were suddenly unimportable again.

The decision took a while to percolate through to the public, but when it did in August, thanks to original reporting by the Korea Times, it caused an outcry in the blogosphere (example here at Volokh lawblog), and thenin the press, particularly the conservative press (example here at Fox News). The State Department’s justification was that the elderly weapons could “be exploited by individuals seeking firearms for illicit purposes.” A spokesman for the current iteration of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (currently the “Brady Campaign”) said that the old muskets were,”a threat to public safety,” patticularly singling out the carbines for their ability to “take high-capacity magazines. Even though they are old, these guns could deliver a great amount of firepower.” The spokesman continued on to praise the Obama Administration.

Back in September, reporters trying to track down an official position were met by a daisy chain of incompetence: State Department spoksemen said to call ATf, ATf took a couple of days to kick it to the Mexican cartels’ armorers at the Department of Justice, Justice punted to the State Department. The White House deferred to the Pentagon, who sent the reporters to the Embassy in Korea, who punted to… the State Department. No one took responsibiliy.

Congress, amazingly (for it is not their usual practice), took action, and added a ban on these bans to the combined Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science (CJS) and Transportation/Housing/Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bills. The NRA says that the bills provided (among other gun-related restrictions on “under-the-radar” bans):

Importation of Curios and Relics. A prohibition on the use of funds to arbitrarily deny importation of qualifying curio and relic firearms. This provision ensures that collectible firearms that meet all legal requirements for importation into the United States are not prevented from import by executive branch fiat.

Curio and Relic Definition. A prohibition on the use of funds to change the definition of a “curio or relic.” This provision protects the status of collectible firearms for future generations of firearms collectors.

There are some other small adjustments in the bill, for example, one overturning the BATFE’s politically-driven attempt to ban self-defense shotguns as “nonsporting.” In addition to that bill, Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Cynthia Lummis have filed legislation to strip Stete of its political discretion, but it hasn’t passed.  Facing this appropriations language, the Administration has backed halfway down and allowed the importation of the 87,310 M1 rifles, but is still fighting the importation of the 770,160 M1 carbines. (The reason there are so many carbines? South Korea used them more than any foreign nation, taking 15.3 percent of the entire production run of 6.5 million, according to Strategy Page). Official State Department position: because they take detachable magazines, they’re crime guns.

David Kopel of the Independence Institute called the March decision, “a de facto gun ban, courtesy of Hillary Clinton’s State Department.” And despite the wording of the law and the clear intent of Congress, 90% of that ban is still in place.

What this means for you: no bargain carbine unless or until the White House changes hands.

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