U.S. Company Making Limited Number of AK-47s
Sep. 13, 1990
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. company for the first time is manufacturing assault-style AK-47 rifles that were banned from import, but the company owner says he wants his gunmaking business to be short-lived.
E. Robert Jensen, president of Lathrop's Shooters Supply Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., said he's making the weapons only to ''recoup the losses from what the government did to me'' when it banned imports just as his shipments of already paid-for rifles came into port.
''I chose to see if I couldn't find a way to get out of the program in 60 to 90 days,'' he said ''I want out of that market.''
Jensen had gotten permits from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to import the guns before he bought them, but Customs wouldn't let him take the weapons. Instead, he had to break them down and leave behind the receiver, which is the trigger and firing mechanism.
Jensen hired a company to produce new receivers and assemble the rifles. He says his version of the AK-47 is better than the imports: ''It was made to higher specifications than anything the Chinese ever made.''
Last summer's ban on imports didn't cover domestic production of assault- style weapons that had been barred from import, said Jack Killorin, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
But Killorin called Jensen's action an example of why Congress should pass President Bush's proposal to ban such manufactures. The legislation is pending before Congress.
The bureau permanently barred imports of 43 models of foreign-manufactured assault-style rifles in July 1989, saying the weapons didn't meet the ''sporting uses'' requirement for imported firearms.
The weapons were equipped with military-type accoutrements such as folding or collapsible stocks, pistol grips, threaded barrels for silencers, flash suppressors, bayonet lugs and large capacity ammunition magazines.
The ban was prompted by the public outcry after the Jan. 17, 1989, slayings of five children in a Stockton, Calif., schoolyard by a drifter wielding an AK-47.
''This most recent action ... illustrates the industry's creativity when there's a loophole to be exploited and a dollar to be made,'' said Josh Sugarmann, director of the Firearms Policy Project who first noticed the AK- 47s were being made by Jensen's company.
Killorin and Jensen said they knew of no other U.S. company that was manufacturing assault-style firearms banned from import.
''I don't think anyone else is crazy enough to get involved in this,'' said Jensen, who said he has been in the firearms distribution and retail business since 1955.
''There's no money in the firearms manufacturing market,'' he said. ''If I can come out even it's going to be a victory.''
Jensen has sued the government in federal court over the import ban, although the government has won similar legal battles.
''We don't have any problem with the fact that BATF arbitrarily and capriciously decided they weren't going to issue any more permits,'' Jensen said. ''But I had issued permits on the basis of which I purchased the firearms. They were legal, saleable private property.''
He would not specify how many guns were involved, narrowing it only to the ''mid-four figures.'' Nor would he say how many AK-47s he's manufacturing with the salvaged parts.
The original price of the new guns to dealers was $498 each for nine or fewer, $449 each for 10 or more. But Jensen said he dropped both prices about $50 to move the guns more quickly.
''That's still a premium price,'' he said.