The Trump administration is launching a major effort to reform America’s complicated system of rules governing the export of firearms, firearm parts, components, accessories and ammunition. While the initiative is good news for the country’s firearm industry, ordinary gun owners also have much to gain from the executive action.
The traps the current export regime can set for the unwary are a case study in the perils of Big Government bureaucracy, and the costs of becoming ensnared are extremely high. Each individual violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the Act’s implementing rules, carries civil penalties of up to $500,000, as well as criminal sanctions of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1 million.
The federal government obviously has a legitimate role to play in ensuring that American military technology does not fall into the hands of foreign dictators, terrorists or tyrants. But is a recoil spring for a 9 mm pistol really as militarily sensitive as the propulsion system for a nuclear missile? Should the government subject an online discussion of hand-loads for the .45 ACP cartridge to the same protocols that apply to the release of schematics for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft?
It is wrong to characterize a neighborhood gunsmith, who threads the barrel of an existing firearm to fit a flash hider or sound suppressor, as the “manufacturer” of a “defense article,” thereby triggering a $2,250 annual registration fee with the U.S. State Department. In addition, if a hunter wants to go on a once-in-a-lifetime Tanzanian safari, he or she should not have to register the temporary “export” of his or her personally owned firearm in the same government database used by military contractors selling heavy artillery to America’s allies.
This is why it is crucial to change the rules for firearm and ammunition exports. Situations like the ones described above represent the very types of minefields that ordinary gun owners or small businesses can stumble into under the current rules.
In a piercing critique of the irrational nature of the current export regime, one official quipped, “If you guard your toothbrushes and diamonds with equal zeal, you’ll probably lose fewer toothbrushes and more diamonds.”
The current system is also stifling to the well-being of the industry. When hobbyists, inventors, entrepreneurs or businesspeople discover how America’s intricate firearm and ammunition “export” regime can reach into benign domestic activity, many turn their attention to other pursuits. Not only does this unnecessarily suppress legitimate firearm-related commerce, it also results in a less competitive and innovative market of firearms, ammunition and related products.
However, the situation is now poised to change for the better. Thanks to two Trump administration rulemakings designed to enhance the competitiveness of American companies in the firearm and ammunition sectors, burdens on small businesses will be removed and export controls will be modernized, improving security. The rulemakings are part of a larger, longstanding project to modernize America’s export regime for military and “dual-use” equipment and technology. Dual-use items are those considered to have both military and civilian applications.
The governing philosophy of the project is to “build a taller fence around a smaller yard” by strengthening controls on the most militarily significant items, while allowing less sensitive material, with well-established civilian uses and markets, to exist in a more business-friendly regulatory climate.
The current rulemakings seek to transfer export control of most non-automatic firearms of .50 caliberor less, as well as their parts, accessories, components and magazines with a capacity of up to 50 rounds, from the jurisdiction of the State Department under ITAR to Commerce Department oversight.
The Commerce Department already regulates exports of certain shotguns, related parts, components, accessories and ammunition. Additionally, within the past several years, that department has assumed growing responsibility for dual-use items that were formerly subject to ITAR.
No one has suggested that Commerce is not up to the task of overseeing highly sophisticated items in such categories as spacecraft/satellites, nuclear technology and submersible vessels. The Obama administration, however, for purely political reasons, withheld the same treatment for firearms and ammunition that can be legally purchased from any number of big-box retailers.
With these new export reforms, President Donald Trump is improving the system to benefit America’s law-abiding gun owners. He has consistently promised to stand up for our Second Amendment freedoms, and through these proposals he is doing just that.
Chris W. Cox served as the executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action, the political and lobbying arm of NRA, until 2019. As NRA’s principal political strategist, Cox oversaw eight NRA-ILA divisions: Federal Affairs; State & Local Affairs; Public Affairs; Grassroots; Finance; Research & Information; Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources; and Office of Legislative Counsel. Cox also serves as chairman of NRA’s Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), the Association’s political action committee; president of the NRA Freedom Action Foundation (NRA-FAF), which focuses on non-partisan voter registration and citizen education; and chairman of NRA Country, an effort to bring country music artists together with NRA members in support of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.
Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.