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Changes to be made to US firearm exports



The Trump administration has eased regulations on some commercial firearms exports, a move that will please US gun manufacturers who are looking to boost their sales of firearms and ammunition abroad.

American manufacturers will have fewer registration requirements in order to obtain an export licence, as the State Department moved authority of certain firearms sales to the Commerce Department. The change was entered into the Federal Register and will be effective on March 9th.

The long-delayed rule change, which began under the Obama administration, is intended to lower costs for US gunmakers, while refocusing regulatory attention on weapons sales that could pose national security risks.

For example, under the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department must disclose any commercial arms sale worth $1 million or more to Congress for review. The Commerce Department has no such requirement.

Also, the State Department requires an annual fee from companies in the industry, whereas Commerce does not require such a fee.

“Exports of firearms and related items that do not perform an inherently military function or provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence advantage – including many articles that are widely available in US retail outlets – will move to the Commerce Department’s export licensing controls,” assistant secretary of state for politicalmMilitary affairs R Clarke Cooper wrote.

The move to shift commercial gun export licences to the Commerce Department was nearly complete under the Obama administration when a gunman opened fire and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. While the proposal is unrelated to domestic gun control, the Obama administration dropped the change.

In May 2018, Trump formally proposed streamlining the process for exporting American firearms.

“Regardless of which department controls the export, all firearms will remain subject to U.S. government export authorization requirements, interagency review and monitoring of commercial entities involved in export and sales,” said Rich Ashooh, the assistant secretary of commerce for export administration.

The Trump administration’s suggestion – declared through rule changes simultaneously released by the Commerce Department and the State Department in May 2018 – would substantially overhaul the current regime.

The centrepiece of the proposal is the transfer of most defence articles included in Categories I, II and III from the USML to the Commerce Control List (CCL). Category I covers small arms like semi-automatic handguns and rifles, fully automatic weapons up to .50 calibre in size, assault rifles, combat shotguns, silencers, rifle scopes,and other related small-arms technology.

Category II includes weapons over .50 calibre such as howitzers, mortars and grenade launchers. Category III covers all ammunition and ordnance for the defence articles included in Categories I and II. Under the proposal, only fully automatic firearms, shotguns and their ammunition and related technology would remain under the State’s control.

The objective of the scheme is to “limit the items that State controls to those that provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence gain or, in the case of weapons, are fundamentally for military end use.” Items that do not meet these criteria, including firearms, will be transferred to Commerce’s control.

Furthermore, while State allows licence exceptions only for certain exports to Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, Commerce has licence exceptions – called Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA) exemptions – for exports to numerous countries. Commerce organises countries that receive STA benefits into different tiers; within each tier are different sub-levels, all of which denote the array of trade benefits the selected countries receive.

The highest range of STA benefits is awarded to the countries listed on level A:5 of the Tier 1 List, which includes NATO partners and other close allies, a total of 37 countries.

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