The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to ease export rules to allow American arms manufacturers to sell more weapons, including assault rifles, to foreign buyers, despite concerns that weakened oversight will fuel global conflict and threaten national security.
"There will be more leeway to do arms sales. You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way."
—anonymous U.S. official"Aides to President Donald Trump are completing a plan to shift oversight of international non-military firearms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department," Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing four U.S. senior officials at various agencies. The plan is part of a broader revision of the nation's weapons export rules that officials said is nearly finalized.
Currently, the State Department treats civilian arms exports as military sales, subjecting them to the same scrutiny as weapons like fighter jets. Under Trump's plan, handguns and assault rifles would be moved from the State Department's Munitions List to the Commerce Control List, which would enable quicker licensing for sales to foreign buyers.
Because the Commerce Department focuses on increasing trade, the shift is expected to significantly boost firearms and ammunition sales. Notably, following the Reuters report on Tuesday, gun stocks surged, with multiple arms companies posting their best days in several months.
"There will be more leeway to do arms sales," an anonymous official said. "You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way."
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However, the report raised alarm among foreign policy and human rights experts alike. As Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said on Wednesday:
Let's flood the world with the American disease: Trump administration prepares to ease export rules for U.S. guns https://t.co/wMf8bZD2g5
— Sarah Leah Whitson (@sarahleah1) September 20, 2017
Just last week, Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Patrick Leahy (Vt.) sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discourage major regulatory changes for combat firearms, Reuters and The Hill reported.
"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 around the world," the senators wrote. "As such, they should be subject to more—not less—rigorous export controls and oversight."