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By Leslie Benavides

On May 24, the Trump administration published a set of proposed rules to make it easier to export U.S. gun and ammunition.[1] The proposed rules would change or move guns and ammunition off of the State Department’s U.S. Munitions List (USML) and into the Commerce Department’s Commerce Control List (CCL). Specifically, this moves guns like semiautomatic assault rifles and other rifles and pistols used by the U.S. Navy Seals, Army, and Marines, as well as ammunition used in them, from the USML to the CCL— which comes with much weaker oversight of these sales.

After the official announcement of the proposed rules, a 45-day comment period that lasted until July 9 brought many public comments from human right rights and gun violence prevention groups, including Giffords Law Center, Amnesty International, Global Exchange, the Brady Center, and the Center for International policy. The proposed rules were opposed for the following reasons:

The distinction between military and non-military guns and ammunition is dangerous.

The proposed rules make the distinction between military and non-military ammunition and guns by claiming that “automatic firearms are designed for and used by the military, and semiautomatic firearms are not ‘inherently military.’” Giffords argues this is simply not accurate. The Brady Center lists many firearms that have been used by the U.S. Navy Seals, Army, and Marines which are proposed to move onto the CCL from USML such as the M40A5 sniper rifle, L115A3, Barrett M82, and many more. The Brady Center also outlines semi-automatic riffles like the the SKS assault riffle which is recognized as predecessor to the AK-47, and the POF USA P415 AR-type rifle that would also move onto the CLL. Sometimes, military combat has even required semiautomatic mode because of their accuracy. Not only have many of these types of rifles been originally designed for military use, but recent events demonstrate how their non-military use is incredibly dangerous. It is military-style semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15 were used to perpetrate the tragedies that occurred in many of the U.S. school and other public shootings. Amnesty International likewise believes that the “the line drawn between automatic and semi-automatic is as clear as the proposed regulations would suggest.”

There is a lack of oversight in CCL in comparison to USML.

As mentioned before, the USML is regulated by the State Department. In their public comment letter, Gifford’s Law Center looks at the difference in oversight between the State Department and the Commerce Department. For example, the Proposed rules includes a change in license requirements: “The Department of Commerce estimates that 4,000 out of the 10,000 licenses that were required by the [State] Department will be eligible for license exceptions or otherwise not require a separate license under the EAR.”[2] The State Department, moreover, monitors the end-use of firearms through the Blue Lantern Program. However, the CCL is not required to have a public department. Gifford argues this means items will fall under the general Bureau of Industry and Security end use program, who do not have as “well-publicized or as formal as the Blue Lantern program,” and only a few percentage of exported items are even reviewed.

Congressional oversight would also be dramatically decreased. Gifford’s Law Center demonstrates that currently, a certification must be provided to Congress prior to the granting of any license or other approval for transactions involving the export of a firearm controlled under Category I of the USML in an amount of $1 million or more. Congress is then given 15-30 days to review the transaction before a license can be granted to prohibit the export. But Amnesty International and Global Exchange observe there is no note or information regarding the Congressional notification of the arms moving from USML to CCL.

The retail availability of firearms in the United States is different than that of other countries.

Global Exchange, Amnesty International, and the Brady Center pointed out that the gun market in the United States is different from other countries, with much greater retail availability for assault rifles and other firearms. For example, in Mexico there is only one retail outlet in the entire country for the legal purchase of any kind of firearm. Moreover, Global Exchange argues that the semi-automatic firearms proposed for removal from the USML are not allowed for civilian use in countries like Belize, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Firearms in importing countries are simply not as widely and commercially available as retail outlets in the United States.

The proliferation of firearms

Even though these firearms are not widely available in retail in other countries, the proposed rules would nonetheless increase their availability and regulation. The Brady Center even worries that in the event U.S. troops were called upon to intervene in conflict, they would be facing enemy combats that use United States’ sniper rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

The proposed rules suggest that information posted on the internet would not be subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). The Center for International Policy and Amnesty International alike worry 3D printable guns that are on the US Munitions List would then be open to the world, making AR-type firearms widely available.

Every day, firearms of the kind the government is trying to place under the CCL are used to kill people around the world. The United States should be more responsible in the exports of these firearms. The proposed rules, however, do the exact opposite, putting lives in danger. The organizations even provided recommendations for the Trump Administration to reverse this.

The NRA’s primary concern with the current regulatory system is the registration fee of $2,250 for businesses that manufacturer an item or a part of an item on the USML—even when the manufacturer has no intent to export them. The CCL does not require this annual fee. Instead of transferring arms from the USML onto the CCL, Giffords Law Center recommends waiving the fee for manufacturers who do not export items.

The Center for International Policy recommends keeping the requirement to notify Congress and the public of any proposed firearm sales of $1 million or more. They also recommended the recognition that semi-automatic rifles are a weapon of choice for foreign militaries.

Amnesty International asks for sufficient time for Congress to address these major gaps; perhaps the recommendations would be a place to start.

[1] International Traffic in Arms Regulations: U.S. Munitions List Categories I, II, and III [DOS_FRDOC_0001-4527, Docket No. Docket DOS-2017-0046] and Control of Firearms, Guns, Ammunition and Related Articles the President Determines No Longer Warrant Control Under the United States Munitions List (USML)  [83 FR 24166, Docket No. 111227796-5786-01].

[2] International Traffic in Arms Regulations: U.S. Munitions List Categories I, II, and III [DOS_FRDOC_0001-4527, Docket No. Docket DOS-2017-0046] and Control of Firearms, Guns, Ammunition and Related Articles the President Determines No Longer Warrant Control Under the United States Munitions List (USML)  [83 FR 24166, Docket No. 111227796-5786-01].

Leslie Benavides is a student at Brown University and associate of the Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico Project.