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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Mulls Ease on Russian Gun Ban

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has managed a rare feat by proposing to ease a ban on imported Russian weapons: It's drawn the ire of both gun-control advocates and the National Rifle Association.

U.S.-Russian negotiations, set to begin Wednesday, will cover a wide range of trade issues, including the Cold War-era weapons ban.

Gun-control advocates fear easing the ban would lead to a flood of Russian firearms into the United States. The NRA, the major lobbying group for gun owners, contends the administration plan doesn't go far enough.

The administration is trying to keep out weapons deemed particularly dangerous by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But those that are allowed in will not be limited in number.

"What we are planning to negotiate with the Russians is analogous to the assault weapons ban that permitted certain types of weapons and banned some others," said Rahm Emanuel, White House director of special projects.

"We want to keep weapons out of here that need not be here, and allow sporting, hunting and collectibles in," he said, noting that the agreement being sought "is actually more stringent than we have with other countries."

Gun-control advocates aren't satisfied.

"Allowing Russia now to unload vast quantities of guns -- many of them surplus weapons from the arsenals of the secret police and military of the former Soviet Union -- would only add to America's gun violence,'' Representative Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, wrote to Clinton this week.

In an interview, Schumer said he does not object to imports of sporting rifles, but he opposes any imports of handguns.

"This is putting diplomacy above the safety of the citizens within America," said Schumer, a key backer of the assault-style firearms ban. "It's one of the things people hate about Washington."

At the NRA, top lobbyist Tanya Metaksa is angry that the administration is trying to restrict the types of guns that could be imported, banning some from Russia that are legal when made elsewhere.

"The Clinton administration obviously now wants to ban any way it can rifles and shotguns as well as handguns used for self-defense," Metaksa said. "These Russian firearms meet importation criteria, yet this administration wants the Russians to negotiate voluntary restraint on firearms so that they can get involved in trade in other areas."

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has agreed to negotiate on the understanding that the United States would block imports of "any guns that would threaten our domestic security or would be attractive to criminals," as determined by the FBI and the ATF, said an administration official familiar with Chernomyrdin's recent talks with Vice President Al Gore.

The administration is focusing on easily concealable handguns capable of rapid fire and some military-style semiautomatic rifles and handguns readily convertible into machine guns, as well as the 9-millimeter Makarov semiautomatic handgun once popular with KGB agents, officials said.

Compliance with such a voluntary agreement would be required for Russia to extricate itself from the International Traffic in Arms Regulations -- Cold War restrictions banning the exports.

As for how many guns might be imported from Russia, the ATF a year ago received 270 applications for licenses to import from Russia up to 3 million rifles, 1.2 million handguns and 9 billion rounds of ammunition.

The administration official said, however, that the applicants "were all applying to import the same 300,000 guns" that Russia is estimated to produce annually.