'Collectible Firearms Protection Act' fires back at South Korean M1 Import Embargo

A year after the announcement of South Koreas proposed sale of M1 rifles to the United States, the chances of these historic rifles hitting an importer near you looked dim. With the State Department digging in their heels and gun control groups shaking each other’s hands, the issue seemed all but dead in the water. However, this week gun collectors and history buffs received rosy news from Washington—legislation has been introduced that could clear a path for the importation of these Korean surplus rifles not to mention future firearms of historical significance.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-W) has partnered with Joe Donnelly (D-IN) to introduce this legislation, currently termed the Collectible Firearms Protection Act. The proposed bill demands a congressional hearing to investigate the legal and social implications of banning historic firearms like these M1s from re-entering the states—military models used both in the WWII and the Korean War.

Over a year ago the South Korean Defense Ministry announced to the cheers of untold gun and military collectors across the United States their plans to “sell back” a sizable number of M1 Garands and M1 carbines to the American public.  These American-made semi-automatic rifles saw action in the Korean War by American servicemen and their allies and are reported to be in varied condition, though certainly of interest to dedicated collectors.  The story of this deal was widely circulated in both firearms periodicals and the other media outlets and widely anticipated by an eager and active gun-collecting public.

Initially given the thumbs up by the White House, the State Department unexpectedly reversed this pronouncement in March 2009, an action that went largely unnoticed at the time.  Gun control groups such as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence cited the number of states with bans on firearms with “high capacity magazines” as well as the “imminent threat” associated with placing such a large number of firearms on the American market as the federal reasoning behind the embargo.

This explanation left the gun world scratching its head and gnashing its teeth.  Though the M1 carbine can be fixed with a 15-30 round box—clearly a large capacity “magazine”—the M1 Garand only takes an 8-round clip.  Additionally, gun advocates pointed out that all semi-automatic rifles have the ability to take larger magazines and are readily available and imported into the United States.

There were also inquiries as to whether the State Department even had jurisdiction over their import. The Arms Control Export Act vested regulatory rights on importing firearms to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and, under BATFE’s rubric, historical significance seemed to exclude the M1s from further regulation. According to the BATFE Guidebook on Firearms Importation any firearm more than 50 years old qualifies it as a “curio” or “relic” and it should be imported in the same manner as any other legal gun.

However this exclusion is contradicted elsewhere in their guidebook, which purports that any arm given by the US government to a foreign power falls under a special category that requires permission from the State Department before any sale. Reporters who attempted to seek clearer answers as to this inconsistency or as to why these rifles posed a specific threat to the American public were fruitlessly passed around to different federal agencies, Fox News reports.

The number of rifles Korea plans to sell has been inconsistently reported in the press: Fox news reports 850,000 rifles while other sources say as little as 100,000.  The proposed bill will restructure the current taxation on importing firearms and create a system that defines the term collectible as it pertains to firearms. Montana Senator John Tester (D) and the NRA are also throwing their support behind this bill.

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