"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Jeff Abramson

Trump Proposal Would Weaken Controls on the Export of Dangerous Firearms



For Immediate Release: Jan. 17, 2020

Media Contact: Jeff Abramson, senior fellow, (202) 463-8270 ext. 112

(WASHINGTON, DC)—Today, the Trump administration released controversial changes that will be published in the Federal Register Jan. 23 to federal rules on how certain firearms and military-style weapons are sold abroad. Under the new rules, nonautomatic and semi-automatic firearms, their ammunition, and certain other weapons currently controlled under the State Department-led U.S. Munitions List (USML) would move to the Commerce Department's Commerce Control List (CCL).

One effect of the rules change would be that Congress would lose its ability to provide oversight on the sales of these weapons to other countries.

In December, after the compromise National Defense Authorization Act removed a provision in the House's version that would have prohibited the changes, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) put a hold on the implementation of the administration’s revised firearms export rules.


"The administration's decision to no longer consider semi-automatic assault weapons, select sniper rifles, and their ammunition as weapons of war, but instead as commercial items, is dangerous and misguided. It is in the U.S. national security interest to maintain tighter control over military-style weapons that are too often misused to commit human rights abuses and perpetuate violent conflicts.

The administration’s firearms export rule changes would compound the damage caused by Trump’s rejection last year of the United States’ signature on the 2014 global Arms Trade Treaty, which requires that other states meet arms export control standards that the United States has had in place for many years.

Sadly, President Trump continues to put the profits of gun makers ahead of long-term global security and more responsible U.S. arms transfer policy."

— Jeff Abramson, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association



Changes would put profits over national and international security

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Senator Refreshes Hold on Firearms Export Changes

January/February 2020

Trump administration proposals making changes to how certain firearms are exported were put on hold in December, just days before they could have been published. It was the second time in 2019 that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the administration to delay the changes.

His Dec. 10 request came one day after the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act was announced, which dropped a House-approved amendment to prohibit the changes. (See ACT, December 2019.) The latest version of the revised rules had been sent to Congress on Nov. 12, starting a 30-day clock before they could be formally published. The administration can now choose to ignore the hold, risking upsetting Menendez and others.

Under the proposed rules, export controls for semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition, as well as certain other weapons, would be moved from the State Department-led U.S. Munitions List to the Commerce Department-led Commerce Control List. In making such a change, Congress would no longer receive notifications of proposed sales.

As he did in a letter dated Feb. 22, when he first had placed a hold on the proposed rules, Menendez insisted that Congress continue to be notified. He indicated, however, that he would no longer insist on a hold related to 3D printing concerns. Revised rules proposed in November said that the Commerce Department would mandate licenses for online publication of 3D printing plans. Menendez still indicated concern and demanded that Commerce “maintain a policy of ‘presumption of denial’ for any license application."—JEFF ABRAMSON

Senator Refreshes Hold on Firearms Export Changes

Looking Ahead 2020: Arms Trade Issues Should See Center Stage in the U.S. Election

A version of this post was the first of a series of short blog posts , to be published by the ACA's Forum on the Arms Trade, which will feature perspectives from Forum experts on weapons use, the arms trade, and security assistance in 2020. The "should" in the title to this post is not an admonition, but rather a prediction. And a bold one. An impeachment effort is now underway related to conditions placed on security assistance to Ukraine. Plus, four Presidential vetoes were used in 2019: one to stop Congressional assertion of war powers in relation to the war in Yemen, and three to override...

Move Signaled for Firearm Exports Changes

December 2019
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration formally notified Congress last month that it would move ahead with controversial changes to regulations on how certain firearms are exported, starting a 30-day clock before final rules could be published. The move pushes past a hold that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) had put on the changes in February and sidesteps efforts in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prevent them.

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) has criticized a Trump administration effort to modify oversight of certain U.S. firearms exports.  (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Under the proposed rules, semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition, as well as certain other weapons, would be removed from the first three categories of the U.S. Munitions List (USML), a State Department-administered list of weapons. Sales of weapons from that list that meet certain dollar-value thresholds are notified to Congress, and a complex set of rules governs the reasons for which they may be transferred to and used by foreign recipients. Under the proposed changes, exports of these weapons would be transferred to a list administered by the Commerce Department, known as the Commerce Control List (CCL). The CCL does not trigger congressional notification requirements and allows for more streamlined arms transfer approvals.

In a Nov. 12 press release critical of the changes, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) said the rules "will remove critical oversight mechanisms that will increase the probability that U.S. firearms will be misused to create violence and instability around the world." In March, Bera led a hearing on the changes as chair of the House Foreign Affairs oversight subcommittee. Menendez also cited the lack of congressional oversight as one of two primary concerns in his February hold on the changes.

But the administration attempted to address concerns about 3D gun printing technology transfers by adding new rules to the CCL that would require a license for online distribution of 3D printing plans. Currently, such plans are regulated under the USML and deemed an exportable item. The administration’s original proposal did not address the 3D printing issue, which was a second reason for concern highlighted in Menendez's hold and in legislative proposals to address the issue that he and others led. (See ACT, March 2019.)

An amendment passed in July to the House version of the NDAA, patterned after stand-alone legislation introduced by Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif), would prohibit changes to the relevant USML categories. The NDAA conference committee has not reconciled the House bill with the Senate version, which did not include the Torres amendment. Menendez has not indicated if he would attempt to place a hold on the changes again.

Export rule changes have not been as high profile as some other domestic efforts related to assault-style weapons, but Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have explicitly called for export authority to remain with the State Department. Robin Lloyd, managing director at the Giffords campaign to prevent gun violence, said on Nov. 13, "This White House clearly is more concerned with appeasing the gun lobby than making it harder for exported firearms to contribute to international violence and crime.”


Planned shift to Commerce Department reviews for certain U.S. arms transfers triggers strong congressional criticism.


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