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July 11, 2019

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to prohibit a Trump administration proposal to transfer weapons export controls from State Department regulations to the less-stringent controls of the Department of Commerce.

The House voted 225-205 on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sponsored by Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), which would prohibit the president from enacting a regulatory change that would thwart congressional oversight of exports of semi-automatic pistols, assault-style firearms, sniper rifles, and ammunition. The regulatory change would exacerbate risks for gun violence, human rights abuses, and armed conflict.

“House Democrats took an important step today to stop the ramping up of deadly gun exports globally to human rights abusers, corrupt security forces, and criminal groups,” said John Lindsay-Poland, coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico. “These exports are used in many murders and armed conflicts and should never be about just the money and the jobs.”

In May, more than 100 organizations called on Congress to stop the regulatory change, even urging that this occur through an NDAA amendment. Many gun violence prevention groups mobilized on the issue.

“In an attempt to appease the gun lobby, the Trump Administration moved to weaken regulations over firearm exports,” said Robin Lloyd, managing director of the gun safety organization Giffords. “That might be good for the bottom line of the corporate gun lobby, but it harms the national security of our country.”

Jeff Abramson of the Arms Control Association said that the amendment “challenges the mistaken claims that firearms do not merit tight control because they are neither high-tech nor provide unique military advantages. In reality, these are some of the weapons most often used to commit abuses and extend conflict around the world. These weapons merit our highest scrutiny, not an easier path for sale and one without Congressional oversight.”

The House amendment is part of the 1200+-page military spending bill that will go to conference to be reconciled with the Senate version of the NDAA, which did not address gun export rules. The bill then goes to the White House for the president’s signature. If enacted, this NDAA Amendment will:

• Keep exports of sniper rifles and semi-automatic rifles controlled as the weapons of warfare they frequently are in other countries, not easily accessible household goods.

• Maintain Congressional oversight of all firearms export licenses over a million dollars. Otherwise Congress and the public will never know about these weapons exports.

• Strengthen measures to prohibit the production and trafficking of potentially undetectable 3D-printed weapons, since the Commerce Department has no authority to stop the transfer of 3D gun blueprints.

• Protect national security through controls and oversight of weapons exports that are most commonly used in armed conflict, human rights abuses, organized crime, and terrorist activity. Controls over who ends up with these weapons will be greatly reduced without the prohibition in the Torres amendment.