MONTPELIER -- A Vermont gun importer is blaming the White House for its laying off of 41 workers because the government blocked its plan to bring nearly $30 million worth of antique, American-made military rifles home from South Korea.
The White House’s refusal to allow Century International Arms, of Fairfax, to re-import the World War II-era M1 Garand rifles is an apparent result of new rules set up last summer concerning requests to ship military-grade firearms back into the United States.
"This importation was denied despite our explaining that the denial would harm the company and pointing out that there is no rational, gun-control reason to block the importation of these historic, 70-year-old firearms," the company said in a statement posted on its website Thursday.
An email to the White House press office seeking comment was not immediately returned Friday, but a press release from last August said the administration was blocking the re-importation of military firearms as part of two "common-sense executive actions" designed to keep dangerous firearms out of the wrong hands. The decisions were part of a gun violence reduction plan first announced in January 2013.
President Barack Obama’s administration said the policy -- with only a few exceptions, such as for museums -- is intended to keep "military-grade firearms" off the streets.
Century Arms attorney Brady Toensing said in a statement Friday the deal was a routine transaction and all approvals were in place in February of 2013 until the company discovered the White House had intervened and blocked the deal. The decision was followed in August by the executive action banning the re-importation of military firearms.
"But there is no rational reason to block these firearms from coming back to the United States," Toensing said. "It is a heavy and cumbersome rifle, but it is highly sought-after by collectors and prized as a collection piece."
Last year, Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Gov. Peter Shumlin sent Obama a letter asking him to allow Century Arms to import the guns.
In their May 2013 letter, Leahy and Shumlin said the South Korean government had been given preliminary approval for the deal last year and the departments of State, Defense and Justice had signed off on it.
"This lawful pending retransfer agreement is important to Vermont’s economy and crucial to more than 200 Vermonters who are employed by Century Arms," the letter said. "Accordingly, we ask your assistance to return the retransfer request to the Department of State without objection so that it may move forward through the importation process."
The letter said the M1 rifle has not been produced for more than 50 years. Leahy and Shumlin called the M1 a historically valuable and collectible firearm that is provided to citizens through the government-chartered Civilian Marksmanship Program, which provides gun safety and marksmanship training. And the M1 was specifically exempted from a proposed 2013 Assault Weapons Ban.
"This proposed exemption reinforces the fact that these are collectible firearms not the target of law enforcement concern," the letter said.
Century Arms describes itself as North America’s largest importer of surplus firearms and accessories.