Trump administration releases plan to shift gun export approvals

Trump administration releases plan to shift gun export approvals
© Getty Images

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced a long-awaited proposal to transfer the approval of certain small gun exports, including semi-automatic rifles and ammunition, from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

Foreign policy advocates and gun manufacturers have been anxiously awaiting the rule change, which has been in the works since 2012.

Officials say the goal is to reduce regulatory burdens on manufacturers and promote American exports. But foreign policy experts and gun control advocates have said they think the approval transfer will lead to less congressional oversight of large gun export deals, causing U.S. guns to end up in the hands of criminal organizations, human rights abusers and terrorist groups.

ADVERTISEMENT

“U.S. firearms exported to Mexican police have been used in massacres and forced disappearances,” John Lindsay-Poland, of Global Exchange’s Project to Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico, said in a statement. “We need international background checks to prevent gun exports to military and private groups that use them to commit violence or collude with organized crime.” 

The State Department required manufacturers to pay a $2,250 annual registration fee. That will no longer be required by the Commerce Department.

Under the proposal, the State Department would shift the approval of exports of nonmilitary firearms and ammunition that are already commercially available, those under Categories I, II and III on the U.S. Munitions List — to the Commerce Department. Approvals for exports of certain parts and components of the guns will also shift.

A State Department spokesperson said firearms and related articles that are inherently for military use, like fully automatic guns or weapons that are not otherwise widely available in retail outlets, will remain under State Department purview.

Though flamethrowers are listed under Category II, a State Department official said the agency will continue to control those with a range of over 20 meters, which distinguishes those used to clear brush from those used in military combat.

The State Department official said the agency will also continue to control gun silencers, sound suppressors and mufflers as well as large component parts for fully automatic weapons.

The rule will be open to public comment for 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register. A Commerce Department official said the agency will review and respond to all of the comments it receives before releasing a final rule. 

--Updated at 3:56 p.m.