Plan To Shift Oversight Of Gun Exports Kicks Up Firestorm

The Trump administration has a plan to shift the regulatory burden for the exportation of firearms away from the State Department and over to the Department of Commerce. It makes a certain kind of sense. After all, the State Department is for dealing with foreign governments and being the official face of the United States government outside of the presidency, and the Commerce Department is for, well…commerce.

However, the move has many spun up over the change and some are preaching doom and gloom scenarios.

The Trump administration’s expected plan to transfer the licensing of gun exports from the State Department to the Commerce Department has Democratic lawmakers and foreign policy advocates readying for a fight.

The proposal under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has yet to be made public, but experts fear it will lead to less oversight of commercial sales of assault weapons like submachine guns and flame throwers to foreign buyers.

Less oversight, they warn, could make it easier for deadly weapons to end up in the hands of terrorists and drug cartels.

“It’s a major change,” said Colby Goodman, director of the Security Assistance Monitor program at the Center for International Policy.

“It’s opening up a lot more risk and a lot more opportunity for illegal and illicit trafficking.”

Under the proposed rules, an administration official told The Hill, firearms and related articles that are uniquely military or that are not otherwise widely available for commercial sale would remain under State Department export licensing controls.

In shifting oversight, exporters and manufacturers, including small gunsmiths, would no longer have to register with the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and pay the $2,250 annual registration fee.

But experts say if exporters aren’t forced to register with the federal government, there will be no way to track and no one to prosecute when weapons end up in the wrong hands.

“There are plenty of cases when in regular processes weapons have been lost,” said Jeff Abramson, a nonresident senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, adding that these are the weapons often used in human rights abuses.

Democrats are particularly upset with one potential change in the proposal.

“As you are aware, combat firearms and ammunition are uniquely lethal; they are easily spread and easily modified, and are the primary means of injury, death and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world,” Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in September opposing the planned move.

“As such, they should be subject to more — not less — rigorous export controls and oversight.”

In the House, Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) planned to introduce legislation Wednesday to block President Trump from transferring oversight of “significant military equipment” like automatic firearms and sniper rifles; their parts, accessories and components; flame throwers; and attachments or devices for launching ordnance to the Commerce Department.

The rule change will only impact commercial items in Categories I, II, and III on the U.S. Munitions List.

While Democrats are, unsurprisingly, freaking out over weapon sales, they forget that there’s been no shortage of firearms being sold in war zones and to petty warlords and tinpot dictators. The rules that are in place haven’t done much of anything to stem the flow of violence in the world.

And no one is saying U.S. companies should be selling to them instead. All that’s happening is a reduction in the regulatory burden that makes it difficult for smaller companies to compete in the global marketplace.

We know Democrats are anti-gun and anti-business, so none of this is overly surprising. It’s normal for them to throw around doom and gloom rhetoric any time either issue comes up, so it’s to be expected that they’d do the same when the two are slammed together.

However, for right now, they’re kvetching about nothing and hoping the American people are dumb enough to believe them.

Jul 29, 2021 12:30 PM ET