What Did Joe Biden Just Do With Russian Gun And Ammo Imports?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Ostensibly, this is supposed to hurt Russia. In reality, Joe Biden found a way to give the bird to American gun owners while trying to look semi-tough in response to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism.

The Biden administration imposed new sanctions on several Russian nationals and businesses on Friday in the latest response to the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny in August of 2020. The new sanctions were imposed on the anniversary of the attack and are, according to the State Department, designed to “send a clear message that there will be accountability for the use of chemical weapons.” Navalny is believed to have been poised by the use of a “Novichok”, which most intelligence officials believe was administered by someone within the Russian government in response to Navalny’s outspoken opposition to Putin.

I have no problem whatsoever sending that message, but I can’t help but think that Biden is sending a different message to an American audience by imposing one particular sanction.

Pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (the CBW Act), the United States will impose a second round of sanctions on the Russian Federation over its use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny.

New sanctions imposed today under the CBW Act include:

  1. Restrictions on the permanent imports of certain Russian firearms. New and pending permit applications for the permanent importation of firearms and ammunition manufactured or located in Russia will be subject to a policy of denial.
  2. Additional Department of Commerce export restrictions on nuclear and missile-related goods and technology pursuant to the Export Control Reform Act of 2018.

These sanctions also include a continuation of measures imposed on March 2, 2021, as well as in 2018 and 2019 in response to the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter, along with the waivers associated with these sanctions.

I’ve seen a lot of folks on social media say that this is a total ban on the importation of Russian ammunition (and many folks ignoring the word “firearms” in there as well), but I don’t read it that way. It looks to me that those U.S. companies that are currently permitted to import arms and ammunition manufactured in Russia can continue their operations as normal (at least for now), but no new permits will be issued, including those that are already in the pipeline.

If, however, their current permits expire while the sanctions are in place, they won’t be able to renew them. Late Friday, The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski reported that it could be up to two years for some companies, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t distributors whose permits could expire long before then. According to Gutowski’s report, the National Shooting Sports Foundation is also investigating if the new sanctions will also “deny imports of popular collectible firearms like the Mosin-Nagant,” and are trying to get some answers from Customs and Border Patrol about how the agency plans to address the issue.

In the short term, not much will change for most gun owners. Cheap (at least relatively so) Russian ammo like Tulammo should still be available for sale here in the U.S., but as time goes on and existing permits expire gun owners will feel the effects of these particular sanctions, and far more than the Russians will. The sanctions are scheduled to last for twelve months, but could also be extended by the Biden administration instead of being allowed to expire, and my guess is they’re not going away as long as Biden (and Putin) are in charge. We could also see another round of more expansive sanctions which we’ll get to in just a moment.

Of course, as one astute observer noted on Twitter, if Putin really wanted to mess with Biden he could probably do so.

I could see Vladimir Putin doing something like that just to tweak the president, but then again, there’s a growing market for ammunition in Afghanistan at the moment, and since Putin’s already making kissy faces towards the Taliban, perhaps he’ll just redirect any new ammunition contracts to central Asia instead of the U.S. market.

While this isn’t an outright ban on all Russian-made guns and ammunition, it’s as much a middle finger to gun owners as it is to Putin himself. And there’s always the chance that Biden could impose further sanctions and attempt to suspend existing permits in a future round of sanctions. That impact would be swiftly felt across the retail market, whereas these newly imposed sanctions will be more of a slow burn.

Sep 22, 2021 6:30 PM ET