The Trump administration announced Friday that it will pass oversight of some commercial firearm exports from the State Department to the Commerce Department, a move aimed at boosting the sale of U.S. firearms and ammunition abroad.
The long-delayed rule change, which began under the Obama administration, is intended to lower costs at home for U.S. firearm makers such as American Outdoor Brands Corp. and Sturm, Ruger and Co., while refocusing regulatory attention on weapon sales that could pose national security risks.
"Firearms and related articles that perform an inherently military function or provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence advantage will remain under State Department export licensing controls," explained Assistant Secretary Clarke Cooper of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs on a call with reporters.
"When we are talking about the easing of certain aspects of industry, it does free us up at State to focus on the larger significant systems and platforms that are inherently of a military function and do provide the United States a critical military edge or an intelligence advantage," Clarke said.
The movement in jurisdiction of certain firearm sales from State to Commerce means U.S. manufacturers will have fewer registration requirements in order to obtain an export license. 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.
What's more, the State Department required an annual fee from industry whereas Commerce does not require such a fee.
Under the new rule, blueprints for 3D printed guns will still be regulated.
"Clearly one of the benefits to this change is the business-friendly approach that Commerce takes to its licensing — that is certainly the big one. Keeping in mind that a significant percentage of firearms and equipment manufacturers are small businesses and that fee really makes a difference," said Rich Ashooh, the assistant secretary of Commerce for export administration.
"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," he added.
The move to shift commercial gun export licenses to the Commerce Department was nearly complete under the Obama administration when a gunman opened fire and killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in late 2012. While the proposal is unrelated to domestic gun control, the Obama administration dropped the decision.
In May 2018, Trump formally proposed streamlining the process for exporting American firearms.