On Monday, the public comment period closed on a pair of rulemakings that could finally free American gun owners and small businesses from being trapped in a minefield of federal regulations designed for exporters of sophisticated military technology. As we mentioned earlier, the proposals are a win-win for both the domestic firearms industry and for national security. The NRA submitted formal comments to both rulemakings lauding the efforts and suggesting additional changes to help promote the agencies’ goal of “building a taller fence around a smaller yard.” The point is to more finely tune export controls to distinguish between items that provide critical military or intelligence advantages to the U.S. or are “inherently military” and items that, while having some military utility, are commonly available from places like RadioShack and Walmart.
Despite the typically uninformed, profane, and hysterical commentary from gun control advocates, the proposals do not seek to deregulate the export of U.S. firearms to other countries. Rather, they recognize that commonly-available firearms and ammunition – as well as their parts, components, and accessories – need not be subject to the same export controls that apply to systems like aircraft carriers, tanks, strategic bombers, and military code-breaking software. The effort was guided by a saying from former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy: “If you guard your toothbrushes and diamonds with equal zeal, you’ll probably lose fewer toothbrushes and more diamonds.” In other words, wasting the highest level oversight resources on items that hundreds of millions of Americans and foreign civilians already have in their homes does not support domestic or international security.
For gun owners and American businesses, it also means fewer opportunities to inadvertently stumble into the snares the current regime sets for innocent domestic activity. If the effort succeeds, bloggers could post detailed handloading information to the Internet without worrying about having “exported” controlled “technical data.” Gunsmiths could thread a barrel for a flash suppressor without first registering their businesses with the State Department and paying a mandatory $2,250 annual fee. And firearm instructors could teach their immigrant neighbors safe gun handling and maintenance without committing an unauthorized “defense service” that could land them in federal prison for 20 years.
The larger project of reforming America’s outdated export regime, moreover, has been going on for years and during the Obama administration included relaxing controls on such relatively sophisticated items as rocket motor propellants, cargo aircraft, radar systems, and even satellites. Obama’s efforts faced little opposition from the press or other self-appointed guardians of public morality. For political reasons, however, Obama ignored the most obvious and ubiquitous categories of “dual use” items, non-military firearms and ammunition.
As in many other cases, Obama left the heavy lifting to President Trump, who’s now enduring the slings and arrows of a spiteful media on the way to doing what’s best for America.
The agencies will now review the comments before issuing their final rules. While there’s no mandatory timeline for that process, it’s hoped that final rules will be complete sometime early next year.
The NRA appreciates the president’s efforts to use his executive authority to protect America’s Second Amendment heritage and looks forward to a more secure and prosperous era for the businesses, large and small, that help sustain it.