The ban would stop imports of 43 kinds of weapons, including the Chinese- made AK-47s and Israeli-made Uzis, two rifles that have become identified with the drug trade.
In March, Bush responded to a public outcry over drug-related violence by announcing a temporary import ban on 50 kinds of assault weapons, which were coming into the country at an increasing rate. He ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to study the weapons to determine which had no sporting use and could be banned under the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Bureau director Stephen E. Higgins said that he had decided which guns to ban based on a technical analysis of each weapon, a study of the purposes for which the guns were advertised and marketed, and a survey of sporting groups to determine which weapons were used for hunting and competitive shooting.
He said that many of the guns banned were semiautomatic versions of automatic weapons - which are banned in this country - and had such features as collapsible stocks, bayonet attachments and large magazines for holding dozens of bullets.
"Most of these are not even being advertised or marketed for sporting use," Higgins said.
While 43 styles of guns were banned permanently, seven others whose imports had been suspended since early spring would be available for import again as a result of the study. Those weapons, which include six .22 rimfire caliber rifles and a gun called the Valmet Hunter, were not copies of military weapons and are sold as hunting rifles, Higgins said.
Higgins said that the ban would not be implemented for 30 days, pending a response from affected manufacturers and importers. But he indicated it was unlikely the ban would be changed after the comments.
Since March, three importers have challenged the temporary ban in court, and the permanent ban is expected to spark more legal challenges.
The Bush administration's actions over the last four months have surprised both advocates and opponents of gun control. A lifelong National Rifle Association member, Bush was elected with strong support from the group.
The NRA issued a terse statement yesterday saying that the ban "is inconsistent with the right guaranteed law-abiding American gun owners" by the Constitution. The group said it would fight the ban "in the courts, on Capitol Hill and at the ballot box."
Michael Beard, president of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, said that he was "ecstatic" and that the administration's decision went beyond what he had expected.
"The symbolic value is especially important," Beard said. "It says there are a wide range of weapons that have absolutely no sporting value."
Beard said he expected the ban to spur proposals in Congress to ban both foreign and domestic assault weapons. Rep. Fortney H. "Pete" Stark (D., Calif.), a sponsor of one such bill, said Bush's ban left "a glaring loophole" by omitting U.S.-made weapons.
Current federal law gives the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the power to stop the import of a weapon that did not have a sporting purpose, but the agency does not have similar power over domestically made weapons. Any action against U.S.-made weapons would take a new law.
White House spokeswoman Alixe Glen said that Bush did not support a change in the current law and felt that the problem of domestic assault weapons was addressed in his recent anti-crime package. That package proposes a ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and would increase penalties for crimes committed using assault weapons.