Commerce Department announces new restrictions on U.S. firearms exports

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo attends a trilateral meeting with President Joe Biden, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) (Mark Schiefelbein, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – The Commerce Department on Friday announced new restrictions on U.S. firearms exports in an effort to prevent the guns from ending up in the hands of drug traffickers and criminals in other nations.

Oversight of legal firearms exports has become a political struggle in Washington since the Trump administration in 2020 moved oversight from the State Department to the Commerce Department — a move that was widely seen as favorable to the firearms industry. President Joe Biden during his 2020 campaign pledged to reverse the move “if needed.” Some Democratic lawmakers in Congress have since scrutinized the rate of approvals for gun exports, including semi-automatic guns, saying they lead to violence and unrest around the world.

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The Commerce Department in October put a freeze on gun exports, which was criticized by the National Rifle Association as well as Republican lawmakers. On Friday, the Commerce Department said it would lift the hold on exports starting May 30, but with new rules and tougher review standards.

The changes include denying most export licenses to commercial entities in 36 countries that are determined by State Department criteria to be high-risk locations for illegal gun trafficking or that undermine U.S. national security. The new regulations also track sales more closely and reduce export license validity from four years to one year.

“The Commerce Department is protecting America’s national security by making it harder for criminals, terrorists, and cartels to get their hands on U.S.-made firearms. Too often, firearms exports fall into the wrong hands and end up being used in ways that directly undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

The department expects the changes to impact about $40 million out of the $600 million in international sales that U.S. gun manufacturers make on average annually.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat who has called on the Commerce Department to change its policies, said on X he was “glad” to see the new regulations.

“We should not be exporting our gun violence epidemic,” he said.

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