Banning the Reimportation of Obsolete Military Rifles Won’t Curb Gun Violence

Children at a public park in Manila look at students from the Philippine Maritime Institute stacking up old Garand rifles following their drills as part of their reserve officers’ training.

Photo by Joel Nito/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday the Obama administration announced two gun-related executive actions, one of which would effectively ban the reimportation of military-grade firearms into the United States. “Wait, what?” you might be asking. Here’s the deal. Occasionally, the U.S. will sell or donate weapons to its allies. When those weapons become obsolete, they can be reimported into the U.S., and offered for sale, usually to old men who love military history. But this new executive action says that, from now on, only museums and a few other entities will be allowed to reimport these weapons.

In a press release posted on, the administration claimed that this executive action will “help keep military-grade firearms off our streets.” That’s a stretch. As the Associated Press reported, the ban “will largely affect antiquated, World War II-era weapons that, while still deadly, rarely turn up at crime scenes.” Drug dealers and gang members aren’t rushing to acquire old, heavy semi-automatic rifles like the M1 Garand. The only people buying these sorts of guns are collectors and hobbyists—the sort of people who give the Second Amendment a good name.

In that same press release, the White House cited the reimportation ban as an example of how “the President and Vice President remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress toward reducing gun violence.” But the tools are simple ones. Congress has been unwilling or unable to pass substantive gun control legislation, which is why the Obama administration has had to resort to these sorts of small-stakes executive actions. They’ve got to do something on gun control. I understand that. But it’s ludicrous to claim that this new executive action will have any practical effect on gun violence in America. As gun control measures go, this is an entirely symbolic one—and what it really symbolizes is the Obama administration’s inability to get anything substantive accomplished on the gun issue.