The good news is that you don’t have to pass an IQ test to be a member of Congress. I wrote a column about one of the dumbest members of the House, Rob Bishop, who has introduced a bill that would strip the ATF of its authority to determine whether a gun can be imported into the U.S. based on whether it’s a ‘sporting’ weapon or not. And since the ATF has decided, lies from the gun industry notwithstanding, that AR and AK-style guns aren’t sporting weapons, those kinds of guns manufactured overseas can’t come in.
As you might imagine, the moment Bishop introduced his bill, Gun-nut Nation immediately began beating the drums to get the bill turned into law. But if Bishop’s an idiot, the NRA isn’t far behind, because if foreign gun makers can begin selling assault rifles and other ‘non-sporting’ guns in the U.S., you can kiss the domestic gun industry goodbye.
Back in 1989, George H. W. Bush issued an order which prohibited the import of Chinese assault-style rifles, in particular the SKS. The ban was temporary but was made permanent and expanded by Bill Clinton in 1993. The expansion of the ban meant that no gun of any design that had a grooved barrel could be sent from China over here. Shotguns, yes. Rifles and handguns, no.
I owned one of those Chinese handguns. It was made by a Chinese company, Norinco, which employs more than 200,000 people and makes just about everything, including ammunition and small arms. The gun I owned was a copy of the Colt 1911 pistol in 45acp caliber, and when I say ‘copy,’ I don’t mean some cheap piece of junk. I mean an exact copy, up to and including the traditional, Colt-style checkered grips.
Did the gun function as well as the original Colt? Yes. Did the gun sell for 30% less than the Colt? Yes. Can you still find the pre-ban Norinco 1911 floating around on gun auction sites here and there? And the good news is that if you need a part or another barrel, you can always pick it up from Colt.
I don’t think there’s a U.S. President who is hated more by Gun-nut Nation than Clinton because, as opposed to Obama, he actually got some gun-control legislation done. And he’s no arugula-eating elitist, Billy Boy’s just a good ol’ boy right out of a Southern trailer park, so he should have known better and just kept his mouth shut. But his 1994 assault-weapons ban didn’t just mean that gun makers had to change the AR design; it was also the first time that the government told the gun industry what kinds of products they could and couldn’t make. That’s not just regulating an industry – that’s telling an industry what it can and cannot do.
But the truth is that for all of Clinton’s attempts to hurt the gun industry, his ban on Chinese guns has probably done more to help the gun industry than any pro-gun effort being bandied about by the supporters of our current President, even though #45 may be on his way down the tubes. Because if Chinese gun manufacturers entered the U.S. gun market, by now they would be over here in force; building factories, producing ARs and polymer pistols and underselling every current brand.
Back in the 1980’s, another iconic American brand, Harley-Davidson, found itself unable to compete with Japanese bike makers and was only saved by a high tariff that Reagan slapped on imported Japanese bikes. The company continues to limp along, its stock price climb since 1911 is about 30% less than similar-sized companies tracked by Standard and Poor’s. Trump loves to talk about how this tariff is a great example of protecting American jobs, but as usual he’s lying because the tariff didn’t ultimately help Harley at all. But at least the company’s still in business, which is more than what would have happened to S&W and Ruger if Billy Boy hadn’t stopped those Chinese guns from coming our way.