Statement from Jeff Abramson, non-resident senior fellow for arms control and conventional arms transfers
For Immediate Release: Feb. 8, 2019
Media Contacts: Jeff Abramson, (646) 527-5793
The Trump administration will soon publish final rules that would likely expedite how certain firearms and military-style weapons are sold internationally. Congress can and should seek to block these changes, which exacerbate the export of U.S. gun violence problems abroad.
On Monday, mildly revised versions of rules first released for comment in May were presented to Congress, starting a 30-day review period.
Specifically, the proposed rules relate to the first three categories of the United States Munitions List (USML) maintained under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), whose lead administrator is the Department of State. Under the new rules, nonautomatic and semi-automatic firearms and their ammunition currently controlled under the USML would move to the Commerce Control List (CCL) to become part of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), whose lead administrator is the Commerce Department.
Under the new rules, Congress would lose its ability to provide oversight on many firearms sales. In 2002, Congress amended notifications requirements so it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, but no such notifications exist for items on the CCL. In recent years, Congressional involvement has helped forestall firearms transfers to repressive forces in Turkey and the Philippines.
At the core of these proposed changes is the mistaken belief that firearms do not merit tighter control because they are neither high-tech nor provide unique military advantages. In reality, they are some of the weapons most often used to commit abuses and extend conflict around the world. These weapons, used in the mass shootings at Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, Las Vegas, and Parkland, are not the commodities that the United States should make easier to export. Exported and trafficked into Mexico and Central America, for example, U.S.-origin small arms are already falling into the hands of human rights abusers and criminal organizations.
In 2017, the administration notified Congress of more than $660 million of proposed firearms sales regulated under the USML, according to the Security Assistance Monitor. The value of transfers that would be subject to the new rule is not yet clear as that data cannot be fully disaggregated.
A bill introduced Friday by Representative Norma Torres (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chair Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and others would simply prohibit the changes.
If not halted or significantly changed, the new rules would continue the cynical approach of the Trump administration to treat weapons as any other trade commodity, threatening to undermine long-term global security and upsetting decades of more responsible U.S. arms transfer policy.