THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
The Briefing Room
1:03 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The event today was the notification by the Secretary of the Treasury to the President that he had accepted the findings of a panel concerning modified semiautomatic weapons. And the panel was put together at the direction of the President November 14, 1997, to examine the issue of whether or not guns that were banned in 1989 were in fact modified to circumvent the ban, and in fact whether or not they met the sporting purposes test.
In 1968 the Gun Control Act set up a standard, a standard saying that firearms generally could not be imported into the country unless they were generally seen as being particularly suitable or readily adaptable to sporting purposes. In 1989 the findings were that some 43 guns did not meet that criteria.
What happened is manufacturers of those same guns took off from the weapons the indicia of -- what were then decided to be indicia of military weapons -- bayonet studs, flash suppressors, night sights, folding stocks -- and in fact began to export to this country in essence the same weapon, the same functioning weapon.
And what this study showed is, number one, that the weapons -- we did a fairly thorough analysis and examination of questionnaires, of hunting guides, of a literature search, of editors of hunting magazines. This study showed that the guns were not used for sporting purposes for the most part, and secondly, that they all had large-capacity military magazines -- magazines with a capacity of over 11 rounds. And this was seen to be a fundamental feature of military-style weapons.
So what happened is the study looked at five design types which encompassed a total of 59 weapons, and all but one of those weapons were deemed to be inappropriate because they were, in effect, military-style weapons that were not used for sporting purposes.
That's it in a nutshell. The report is out. I think it's a very well done report. It's available to you. It's also available on the Internet. It's a 38-page report, but it has lots of tabs in it and it has pictures of the weapons as they were and as they were modified, and you'll see that they look essentially the same.
Q Do you know how many of these weapons -- had all of these weapons been licensed and the licenses were on hold, and how many weapons actually made it into the United States to be warehoused?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Since 1991, about 425,000 of these weapons have been imported. However, there are pending 600,000 -- permits for the importation of up to 600,000 of these weapons. And there are pending applications of about 1 million more for permits. When I say -- the numbers I'm using are the maximum numbers for weapons that may be imported. That's what they asked for; it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to import that number of weapons.
Q Can you tell us, the M-1 replica that was used in Jonesboro is not included in any of this; is that correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. These only deal with imported weapons. The M-1 is a domestically produced weapon.
Q So none of the weapons allegedly used by the two kids in Jonesboro would have been covered under any of these new bans.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q Including the clip, the 30 --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the clips, you have to go back to the 1994 assault weapons ban. That law prospectively banned the manufacture of clips of more than 10 rounds. I don't know --
Q You don't know whether --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Through the media I've learned that they may have had some 30-round clips in their possession. I don't know when they were manufactured.
Q So what does this today do -- Attorney General Reno mentioned the tragedy of Jonesboro. What could Americans look at here and say, well, this makes them feel better, this is the right thing to do, considering what happened in Jonesboro?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have -- and you'll see it in the report -- indications that these weapons have been used in crimes, and the number of traces that these weapons are undergoing, or the number of these weapons involved in traces, has been increasing in the last three years. So I don't know if you can draw a direct correlation between the events in Jonesboro, but clearly we feel that these weapons have been used in crimes, will continue to be -- or would have continued to be used in crimes if in fact we didn't take this step.
Q But weapons of these types can be manufactured here in the United States now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, this ruling has to do with just imported weapons. Now, there are weapons -- of course, if you look at the 1994 assault weapons ban, that ban affects 19 specific weapons. So if they don't fit into -- they're not imported and they don't fit into this criteria and they don't fit into the ones specific enumerated in the 1994 law, yes.
Q But, theoretically, if I'm a manufacturer of guns in the United States, I could manufacture a gun like the one that's been banned for import today.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Well, the large-capacity magazines have been banned in 1994.
Q You can still build the same kind of gun in this country as the ones that you're banning as long as it's sports-modified, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The sports provision really has to do only with the 1968 law. But again, you are limited as far as the magazine capacity in this country.
Q But my point is, if there is a pent-up demand for these kinds of guns, which the 1.6 million applications would assume that there is, if there is still a demand, then for a domestic gun manufacturer, I mean, now is the time to step in and meet that demand, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I guess we'll have to see what the Congress's response is if, in fact, that happens.
Q That would be allowed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, that depends. If you look at the magazine capacity, which was prohibited by Congress in 1994, magazines of over 10 rounds, if, in fact, they manufactured a weapon that looked like this that had a magazine capacity less than 10 rounds, it could happen at this point in time.
Q From a technical standpoint, the weapons that you're banning today, mechanically, with the exception of the magazines, are very little different from other semiautomatic weapons that are allowed on the market, correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mechanically, yes. But the whole issue here is large capacity military magazines. I mean, mechanically, most guns work the same way, so the question is how many rounds can you put out in a short period of time.
Our view is that these are in essence military weapons. You've just taken off some of the accoutrements of military weapons, but you still have the same type of functioning weapon, particularly if you have a large-capacity magazine. So if you put out 30 rounds in a very short period of time, you've got a military weapon.
Q A semiautomatic weapon is a semiautomatic weapon is a semiautomatic weapon.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q It's just the magazines that are different.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. And that's what we're focusing on with this decision.
Q Some anti-gun groups say that this is just a band-aid, that you're not going far enough, and that within a few months or a year or two the same kind of loopholes and circumvention will occur that will make these kinds of guns available on the U.S. market. Is the administration planning any steps to prevent that from happening?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we have to respond to the situations as they occur. What this decision does is add large-capacity magazines to the military characteristics that were used in the 1989 decision. Now, again, it's important to focus on the fact that we're only looking at the universe of weapons that we were directed to look at. We're not making this a larger ban than the 58 weapons that we looked at. If in fact something develops akin to what you're talking about, then I think we'd have to respond -- or we may respond in some fashion, or Congress may respond. But this decision, again, is only focused on 59 weapons.
Q So you can have a weapon that takes a magazine.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A weapon that takes a magazine, that's correct.
Q As long as it's under 10.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. We're talking about these weapons now. These are imported weapons. So if you had an imported weapon -- again, the criteria here is, are they generally acceptable and used for sporting purposes.
Q But I'm trying to distinguish the difference between the domestic variety and the imported variety. If you have a domestic weapon that takes a magazine, unless of course you control what magazines people have, then how would it be different from the imported weapons that you banned today? In other words, you're banning any weapon that can hold a magazine, or only weapons that have magazines of larger than 10 rounds, and that's not the weapon, that's the magazine.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct. That's right. Well, these weapons are configured to accept magazines of greater than 10 rounds, so that's what we're doing. We're banning these weapons because they can -- first of all, not used for sporting purposes based on our survey and, secondly, can accept a magazine greater than 10 rounds. Now, domestically, that's a whole other issue.
Q So, in other words, if you were an exporter from somewhere else, you could send in a weapon here that would only take a magazine that would take 10 rounds, and that would be legal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.
Q Do you know what the difference is between the -- what is it, whatever it is -- the one that was allowed and the 58 that were disallowed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It doesn't -- it just doesn't have the capacity, the capability of taking a large-round magazine. I think it has to do with the aperture where you fit the magazine in.
Q So can you give us some statistics on how often these kinds of weapons that are being banned today are used in homicides and other crimes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know how specific we can get. If you look in this report here, there are a couple of charts that talk about crime use and it talks about the fact that they're going up as far as the number of traces are concerned. In other words, traces take place when a gun is used in a crime -- the crime gun. You put it into ATF, for instance, and they trace the gun as to where it came from. Those numbers are going up. There is some anecdotal information in here about crimes that are taking place. I can't tell you specifically how many of them are used for homicides. Quite frankly, the information is not that refined.
Q And if I understand you correctly, 425,000 of these got into the United States and were sold prior to the freeze you established.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q I'm a little unclear on the magazine issue. Take one of these weapons that's banned now under this order, can you make it legal for import simply by clipping a 10-round magazine on it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The criteria really is the sporting purposes test. The Secretary of the Treasury has a lot of discretion. If you look again in this report, you will see a lot of legislative language and history from the 1968 report. So what we did was, we did a survey that, are these guns being used for sporting purposes. The answer came back: Certainly not -- some are, but a very small number.
In addition to that, then you look at the magazine issue which is indicia to us that it is a military style weapon. So the criteria is the sporting purposes use and, in addition, the magazine. But the controlling is whether or not these are used for sporting purposes.
Q So the answer is clearly no; putting a 10-round magazine on any one of these weapons will not make it legal for --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't say it's clearly no. I think there is an appeals process here that will take place within the next 30 days, and that might be an argument that would be made by a particular manufacturer. I can't answer that question --
Q The position of the Treasury Department in that argument would be that putting a 10-round magazine on one of these weapons would not make it legal for import.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.
Q Are large-capacity magazines and smaller magazines the same size, or is it something about the mechanism in the weapon that makes it capable of taking more than 10 rounds in rapid fire?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's something about the aperture and the mechanism of the weapon, because you have to be able to have enough power to pump out these number of rounds, is my understanding.
Q In the appeals process, does the Treasury Secretary have the right to just move in unilaterally and say, "I'm going to do what I'm going to do," or can he be preempted by the courts or whatever?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly there's always a possibility of litigation. The appeals process is for 30 days, but that would not forestall litigation moving forward on another front.
Q So presumably, this could go on for a long time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The decision has been made by the Secretary, we're going forward as of today, and the decision will be in place -- it's in place today. Now, whether someone goes forward in litigation and looks for some sort of injunctive relief, I can't predict that. But the decision is in effect today.
Q How does the appeals process work? How does that move forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a 30-day period of time in which individuals who feel aggrieved can appeal directly to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. There is a kind of a standard process for these appeals.
Q This is kind of -- would you characterize this as a low-level bureaucratic review that kind of got higher profile because of the President's interest in the case?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I wouldn't characterize it as that. I would say it's a relatively high-level review. There were two committees, as explained in the book here. There was a technical committee made up of ATF and people from the Treasury, and then there was a committee at a higher level that -- oversight. This is direction from the President to the Secretary of the Treasury to do a report under 20 days, and that's what we did. It's pretty high level for us.
Q How long has the report been ready?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I would say perhaps a week, yes, about a week.
Q Was it stepped up at all because of Jonesboro?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, sir. We had a 120-day time limit. As a matter of fact, we went over it a little bit.
Q What happens to the guns -- they're what, about 500,000 or 600,000 guns that are actually warehoused now -- are they --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. There are some guns that the Customs Service has, but it's not that large a number. It's smaller. They're in Customs warehouses. But the 600,000 and the million, those two numbers are permits and applications for permits. They don't represent guns that are in the country.
Q Permits for importation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q When you say 10 rounds are legal, how many bullets is that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ten bullets.
Q Ten bullets, without reloading?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q If you had the authority, if the government had the authority to ban the weapons that are being banned today before now, why wasn't the authority used until now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was a process. The weapons were, in essence, banned in 1989. What happened is the modifications took place. It's kind of an incremental basis. And then in 1994 Congress passed the Assault Weapons Ban, and in that ban was the recognition that large-capacity magazines are something that should be prohibited. So you take all of that together, moving over time, I think this is kind of a natural progression. I personally don't see it as being a problem.
Q But why wouldn't these have been banned by Congress? Why wouldn't that have covered these weapons, if large-capacity magazines --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, Congress only banned the magazines and then they banned 19 specific weapons by model number. These weapons were not included.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:20 P.M. EDT