It’s not exactly Webster’s, but we’re guessing that the term “sporting” rifle takes its origins from a federal statute section put into play by Congress in 1968 and interpreted by the ATF in 1989.
Know what it is?
It’s the “sporting purposes” test, set up in the Gun Control Act of 1968 that came into play for rifles when the ATF was asked to evaluate the surplus military versus sporting purposes of rifles requested to be imported in 1989.
The statutory phrase from the 1968 Gun Control Act at 18 USC §925(d)(3)
goes something like this: “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” When the Secretary finds a firearm is of a type that is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes, he “shall authorize” the importation of the firearm. Such a firearm may not fall under the purview of the National Firearms Act of 1934.
In 1989, an ATF Working Group
was convened to evaluate the Beretta BM59 and the Cetme 7.62 NATO Caliber Sporting Rifle (the predecessor to the HK91) whose importation had been suspended. In 1968, a different ATF Working Group had allowed the importation of the Beretta and the Cetme. At that time, the ATF Working Group found that “…the semiautomatic assault rifle is not generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes.”
In the interim, the “sporterized” military surplus rifle had emerged, modifying certain features of the firearms to convert its original military purpose into a sporting purpose. It wasn’t only for import; it was also to meet customer demand and use.