Senators Demand Answers on Commerce Department's 'Pause' on Gun Exports

Senators Demand Answers on Commerce Department's 'Pause' on Gun Exports
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

As we reported here a couple of weeks ago, the Commerce Department has put a “pause” on approving new export permits for gun and ammo makers, with a few limited exceptions for Ukraine, Israel, and most NATO countries.

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The agency hasn’t said if there were any specific concerns that led to the highly unusual move, which is ostensibly meant to “further assess current firearm export control review policies to determine whether any changes are warranted to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy interests” and “enable the Department to more effectively assess and mitigate risk of firearms being diverted to entities or activities that promote regional instability, violate human rights, or fuel criminal activities.”

Now 45 U.S. senators (every Republican save for Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski) have signed on to a letter authored by North Carolina Sen. Ted Budd demanding more details from the Commerce Department about why the agency believes such a draconian move is necessary.

“We are concerned the unmet demand created by this action will promote opportunities for less scrupulous, professional, or conscientious sources of supply to fill the void, thereby strengthening illicit arms markets,” the senators wrote.

They cited an industry association estimate of a direct cost of at least $89 million from the 90-day pause and at least $238 million annually if permanent.

Earlier this month, Republican Representative Mark Green, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, led a separate letter from more than 80 lawmakers seeking answers on the pause.

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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In the letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Budd and other senators “recognize the crucial need for firearms for civilian self-defense in Ukraine and Israel, which are exempted from this pause,” but go on to note their concern about the “significance of exports that are now put on pause by the Department’s announcement.”

As you know, firearms exports to non-government users in countries not covered by the exception constitute a significant percentage of overall U.S. firearm exports. This pause puts at stake U.S. commercial and economic interests, as well as those business interests of firearm exporters whose pending exports are now subject to pause, in addition to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.

… Furthermore, it is our understanding that the Department has never before imposed such a 90 day pause on such a wide range of firearms exports. We have significant concerns about the justifications for and ramifications of this pause.

The letter concludes with a series of questions for Raimondo, with a request for answers by November 30. Here are a few of the queries from the senators:

1. Please explain the reasoning for this pause and identify the specific U.S. national security and foreign policy interests that are part of this reasoning.

2. What specific situations has the Department identified where the current export policies affected U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and contributed to regional instability, violated human rights, or fueled criminal activities?

3. Did BIS engage with firearm and ammunition industry stakeholders prior to the October 27 announcement to understand the impact this unprecedented decision would have on their industry?

4. Did BIS engage with advocacy organizations prior to the October 27 announcement to provide advance knowledge of this announcement? a. If yes, then please provide a list of these organizations.

5. Has BIS held a meeting with firearm and ammunition industry stakeholders since making the October 27 announcement?

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It’s amazing to me that it’s been nearly a month since the Commerce Department enacted the “pause” and we have yet to learn the most basic details of why it was ordered in the first place. Were there any specific concerns that led to the pause, or was this another attack on the firearms industry by a president who’s declared gun makers are “the enemy“?

I’m sure Raimondo will come up with some sort of excuse as to why the “pause” is necessary, at least if she bothers to answer the questions posed to her. If the November 30 deadline passes without a response, the next step would be to bring her in front of a committee to respond in person. That will likely come from the House side of the Capitol given the Democratic majority in the Senate, but it’s good to see Republicans in both chambers engaged on this issue and pressing Raimondo for answers. Hopefully we’ll get some, but if Raimondo chooses to stay silent that will be a revealing response in and of itself.

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