The ’94 Norinco Ban: Backdoor Gun Control Is Nothing New

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Following the recent Russian ammo ban, let’s look back at how a similar situation in the early 1990s led to smuggling, sting operations and the end of Norinco in the United States.

 

Norinco ammo
Old crate of Norinco 7.62×39. Photo:Rock Island Auction Company.

On August 20th the Biden administration announced new sanctions to be placed on Russia, , banning the importation of Russian-made arms and ammunition into the United States. The official reason given for the new sanctions was that they were in response to the Russian government’s alleged poisoning of Alexei Navalny. President Biden’s critics were quick to point out that his recent move to waive sanctions on the Russian company responsible for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will help the Russian economy far more than this ammo ban could ever hinder it. This has led many to believe that the true reasoning behind the ban was to punish law-abiding American gun owners and not the Russian government.

This would be consistent with promises made since President Biden’s campaign first began. He reaffirmed his position in a June 23rd speech where he said that his administration would be encouraging Congress to pass more gun control but would be pursuing their goals in any way they can, implying the use of means besides legislation. This is not the first time an administration has sidestepped Congress to pursue a gun-control agenda, however. Similar measures were taken by President Clinton in the early 1990s against Chinese arms companies, creating a situation very similar to the one we see today.

Norinco Ban

In 1994 President Clinton decided to extend China’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status, with the notable exception of most arms and ammunition produced by leading Chinese defense conglomerates Norinco and Polytech. Much like Biden’s recent sanctions on Russian arms and ammo, Clinton’s critics pointed out that the harm imposed by the sanctions on the Chinese economy will pale in comparison to the benefits they’ll feel from renewing their MFN status. Unlike Biden’s recent sanctions, President Clinton was at least more transparent about the decision, claiming that it was made not only to punish China’s human rights abuses but also to combat growing crime rates in the United States. Cheap Chinese arms and ammo were reportedly very commonly found in the hands of criminals in this time period, a concern that was present since at least President Bush Sr. banned the importation of “assault rifles” in 1989.

Despite barely receiving a footnote mention in their respective news stories, the effects that these bans had on American gun owners were greater than the impact either had on the Chinese or Russian economies. Even supporters of Clinton’s 1994 decision claimed that it would be a net positive for the Chinese economy and that only Norinco had anything to be worried about. Apparently, many of them were worried, because the ban led some Norinco employees to take drastic measures.

Fallout From The Ban

In December of 1994, a U.S. Customs Agent informed the ATF that a man named Hammond Ku had thousands of Chinese weapons stored in his warehouse in the San Francisco area. This led the ATF to launch what they called Operation Dragonfire, a sting that was ongoing for 18 months and resulted in arrests, weapon seizures and the indictment of Norinco due to their alleged knowledge and participation in the weapons smuggling. Undercover agents posing as organized crime representatives successfully arranged the purchase of 2,000 fully automatic AK rifles, and further deals were in the works to smuggle in rocket launchers and even armored vehicles. Upon Ku’s arrest, he claimed that key Norinco and Chinese government officials were aware of and complicit in the deal, and were apparently only concerned with countering profits lost following Clinton’s sanctions. If there were any chances of Norinco returning to the American market before this, their reckless Hollywoodesque smuggling attempt guaranteed their ban was permanent.

It was China’s massive industrial scale which made the AK a viable and popular platform in the U.S. in the first place. While not the first AK rifles to be imported, they were certainly the cheapest. Through low prices, high availability and abundant and cheap ammunition, Norinco was able to single-handedly raise the AK out of niche commie obscurity and make it a mainstream option for American shooters everywhere. The ban on Chinese rifles was certainly devastating too, but much like today it was the removal of their cheap and plentiful ammunition from the market that had the biggest effect on shooters. Millions of Chinese AKs and SKSs were imported between about 1984 and 1994, leaving many Americans with rifles and nothing to shoot. Thankfully, life finds a way, and shortly after China’s removal from the American arms market the void began to be filled by Russia. Cheap and plentiful Soviet calibers once again lined American store shelves for decades until the most recent round of sanctions were announced, putting us right back at square one.

Disturbing Pattern

If this pattern continues, the ammo void will slowly but surely begin to get filled by a new country like Turkey, only for their arms companies to be sanctioned as well in another decade or two for dishonest political reasons. This all goes to show that Executive Orders and Actions have far too much sway over American gun owners. Many of the things which affect the gun community the greatest are not laws that were voted on and passed by Congress but were decisions made on the Executive level with almost zero chance of being repealed. If this continues, Second Amendment rights and the ability to freely exercise them will continue to be eroded. At least legislation like Clinton’s 1994 Assault Weapons Ban had a sunset which was reached in 2004, but sanctions placed on Chinese and Russian defense conglomerates are in effect permanent. So, it's time to take your last box of Tulammo and place it on the shelf next to your last box of Norinco, let them serve as reminders of what gun owners still have to lose.


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  4. I remember reading about the agents involved and that their was bigger fish to fry but the fish in question had ties to the Clinton’s so the case was leaked to the press . The agents careers were over after this too.

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