Proposed Rules for Oversight of Firearms Exports Published for Public Comment

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
May 24, 2018


The Departments of State and Commerce have submitted to the Office of the Federal Register proposed rules to amend Categories I, II and III of the U.S. Munitions List (USML) in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). These proposed rules will transfer oversight for export of some types of firearms, ammunition, and related items included in these categories from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce. These proposed rules will be made open for public comment and may be subject to modifications, prior to issuing final rules in the Federal Register.

The National Security Council, is working through the interagency process with the Departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security, and other stakeholders to reexamine longstanding bureaucratic polices and regulatory processes to ensure that U.S. industries have every advantage in the global marketplace, while at the same time ensuring the responsible export of arms. This action follows the recent release of the Administration’s new Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, as well as an updated policy on exports for Unmanned Aerial Systems.

WHAT THESE PROPOSED RULES DO

The proposed rules are the product of a larger effort since 2010 to modernize the U.S. export control regulations to create a simpler, more robust system that eases industry compliance, improves enforceability, and better protects America’s most sensitive technologies.

Under the proposed rules submitted by the U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), firearms and related articles that are inherently for military end use or that are not otherwise widely available in retail outlets will remain under State Department export licensing controls.

Items that are widely available in retail outlets that are also currently regulated by the State Department authorities as set forth under Categories I, II and III of the U.S. Munitions List in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations will be subject to the new 500 series controls in Category 0 of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commerce Control List (CCL) in its Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which will remain subject to export licensing requirements, interagency review, and monitoring of commercial entities involved in export and sales.

These changes will significantly reduce the regulatory burden on the U.S. commercial firearms and ammunition industry, promote American exports, and clarify the regulatory requirements for independent gunsmiths, while at the same time prioritizing national security controls and continuing our ability to restrict exports where human rights, illicit trafficking, and related issues may be of concern. We anticipate that a number of firearms manufacturers, including many small businesses, that are currently required to register with the Department of State, will be relieved from an annual fee burden under this proposed rule. The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security does not have registration requirements or export licensing fees.

These proposed changes relate only to the export and temporary importation of some types of firearms and ammunition. These proposed rules do not have any impact on the ability of American citizens in the United States to exercise their second amendment rights, nor do these proposed changes decontrol exports of any firearms or ammunition. Exports of firearms ammunition and related items will continue to require U.S. Government authorization, and exports will continue to be restricted where the risk of human rights abuses or illicit diversion are of concern.

MYTHS AND FACTS

Myth: Transferring control of firearms from State to Commerce will result in deregulation of U.S. firearms exports, increasing numbers of U.S.-manufactured small arms around the world, and contributing to conflicts in places such as Africa or Central America or those involving gangs and non-state actors.

Fact: The transfer of certain firearms to the control of the Department of Commerce does not deregulate the export of firearms. All firearms moved from the jurisdiction of the Department of State to the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce will continue to require U.S. Government authorization. The U.S. Government is not considering removing the export authorization requirements for any firearms regardless of which agency has licensing jurisdiction or the proposed destination.

Myth: Transferring control to Commerce will remove the requirement of U.S. Government authorization for firearms to many countries under License Exemption Strategic Trade Authorization (STA).

Fact: The Commerce License Exception Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) may not be used for the firearms and shotguns that transition from the U.S. Munitions List (USML). Only long barreled shotguns that were previously controlled by Commerce may be exported using License Exception Strategic Trade Authorization.

  • Additionally, the receivers, detachable magazines, and other significant parts and components of these formerly USML firearms, such as the barrels, cylinders, barrel extensions, mounting blocks (trunnions), bolts, bolt carriers, operating rods, gas pistons, trigger housings, triggers, hammers, sears, disconnectors, pistol grips that contain fire control "parts" or "components," and buttstocks that contain fire control "parts" or "components" are similarly ineligible for export under license exception Strategic Trade Authorization.

Myth: Even after this change, small U.S. gunsmiths will continue to be burdened by registration and requirement fees.

Fact: Most gunsmiths are not required to register as manufacturers under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) today. Commerce does not have a registration requirement for manufacturers and exporters of the items under its jurisdiction. Therefore, small gunsmiths who do not manufacture, export, or broker the automatic weapons and other sensitive items that remain on the USML will no longer need to determine if they are required to register under the ITAR, but they may still be required to comply with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) licensing requirements.

  • This reform will help to clarify what is controlled on which list, ending jurisdictional confusion and making it easier for exporters, especially small businesses, to comply with U.S. export controls.

  • For those items moved from the U.S. Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Control List (CCL), the export licensing requirements and process implemented by the Department of Commerce will be calibrated both to the sensitivity of the item and the proposed destination.

  • As a result, foreign manufacturers will enjoy a greater opportunity to source from small U.S. companies. This is good for: U.S. manufacturing, the defense industrial base, security of supply to the U.S. military, and interoperability with allies, to name but a few benefits.

  • As part of the recent reforms to our export control system, the end-user screening lists maintained by State, Commerce, and the Treasury have all been compiled into a single list. This single list has almost 8,000 line items. As a result, those companies that cannot afford to hire a screening service or read Federal Register notices every day can self-screen their sales orders to make sure they do not inadvertently send their products to a prohibited recipient. In 2013, the average number of monthly downloads of the consolidated list was 34,000. Upgrades made in November 2014, including a new "fuzzy logic" search tool added in mid-2015 that helps find listed entities without knowing the exact spelling, are resulting in hundreds of thousands of screens per day.

  • A single application form is in development. When deployed, this form will enable exporters to apply for licenses from any participating export control agency from the same starting point.

Myth: The transfer of items from State Department export control to Commerce Department export control will also change items that are controlled for permanent import.

Fact: The State and Commerce Department export control changes do not alter permanent import controls.

  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) administers permanent import controls for Arms Export Control Act defense articles on the U.S. Munitions Import List.

  • The transfer of items to the Commerce Department for export control does not change ATF permanent import controls.

Myth: The licensing of U.S. arms by the Commerce Department will lead to less regulation, resulting in U.S.-origin items being more widely available for use in human rights abuses.

Fact: The movement of certain firearms to the Commerce Department will allow for more tailored export controls of items.

  • The U.S. Government will continue its longstanding end-use monitoring efforts, including vetting of potential end-users, to help prevent human rights abuses. The U.S. Government is not removing the requirements of export authorization for firearms or ammunition.

  • The Department of Defense and the Department of State will remain active in the process of determining how an item is controlled and reviewing export license applications for national security and foreign policy reasons, including the prevention of human rights abuses.

Myth: The Commerce Department has a lack of subject matter experts in firearms licensing and control, making it a poor choice to control small arms exports.

Fact: The Commerce Department has been licensing shotguns and shotgun ammunition for decades. The Commerce Department has investigated and disrupted numerous diversion rings and will bring that expertise to bear on small arms.

Myth: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will lose the authority and jurisdiction to investigate the illegal export of those items being transferred (firearms, firearms parts, and ammunition) when this transition occurs.

Fact: This transfer does not affect ICE HSI’s authority or jurisdiction in any way. ICE HSI will continue to enforce the regulations governing the export of firearms, firearms parts, and ammunition.

For further information, please contact the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at PM-CPA@state.gov and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.