Gun control advocates slammed the Trump administration Thursday for siding with gun manufacturers and lobbyists after the White House slashed the oversight process for exporting weapons overseas.
In a new rule entered into the Federal Register on Thursday, the administration shifted oversight of many arms exports from the U.S. State Department to the Department of Commerce, a move expected to boost sales of ammunition and weapons including sniper rifles, AR-15s, and other semi-automatic firearms.
Gun manufacturers have lobbied for the shift, which will lower the industry's costs.
The gun control group Giffords Law Center denounced the new rule, which is set to take effect in March, on social media.
NEW: Trump just made it easier for the gun lobby to sell firearms abroad.
This new rule will eliminate congressional oversight, undermine strong gun laws in other countries, and make it easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands overseas. https://t.co/k1h1u0CBYf
— Giffords (@GiffordsCourage) January 23, 2020
"Once again, the Trump administration chose gun industry profits over public safety," said Adzi Vokhiwa, the group's federal affairs manager. "Since this ill-conceived proposal was first announced nearly two years ago, human rights, arms control, and gun safety organizations repeatedly made it clear that oversight of firearms exports should remain with the State Department, which has the expertise to ensure that weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. The sale of firearms—domestically and abroad—deserves the highest level of scrutiny, and this regulation fails to offer much scrutiny at all."
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Under the new system, gun manufacturers will have to meet fewer regulatory requirements to obtain an export license from the Commerce Department than they have from the State Department. Commerce is also not required to disclose to Congress when a commercial firearm sale exceeds $1 million.
Last May, as the administration was considering the change, more than 100 organizations including Amnesty International, Newtown Action Alliance, and the Arms Control Association wrote to members of Congress calling on them to support measures that would maintain oversight of arms exports.
Shifting oversight to Commerce, the groups wrote, would further contribute to humanitarian crises overseas.
"Although proponents of the proposed changes argue that small arms are 'less dangerous' because many can be bought in U.S. retail outlets, the fact is that armies are built from these firearms," the letter reads. "Small arms are the weapons of mass destruction in countries and regions such as Congo, Burma, Mexico, and Central America. AR- and AK-type rifles and their ammunition that would be transferred to Commerce control are weapons of choice for criminal organizations in Mexico and other Central American countries, contributing to the humanitarian catastrophe that drives many migrants north as guns flow south."
In December, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote to the State Department demanding a hold on the new rule shifting oversight of the exports.
When the administration announced last week that the rules would be entered into the Federal Register, Menendez said President Donald Trump was timing the "reckless" decision so that his representatives could "tout the new rules at the annual gunmakers' Las Vegas convention next week."
"As I tried to repeatedly explain to the Trump administration, semi-automatic firearms and ammunition—especially those derived from military models and widely in-use by military and security services—are uniquely dangerous," the senator said. "They are easily modified, diverted, and proliferated, and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world. As such, they should be subject to more rigorous export controls and oversight, not less."