Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., notified the State Department recently that he is putting a hold on a congressional notification of a department proposal to transfer responsibility for export controls on firearms and ammunition from the U.S. Munitions List to the Commerce Control List. This proposal, along with a related proposal from the Bureau of Industry and Security, would move articles that the president determines no longer warrant control under categories I (firearms, close assault weapons, and combat shotguns), II (guns and armament), and III (ammunition/ordnance) of the USML to the CCL.

BIS has said these changes would not deregulate the transferred items and that licenses would be required to export or reexport to any country a firearm or other weapon currently on the USML that would be added to the CCL. BIS would also require licenses for the export or reexport of guns and armament that would be controlled under new ECCN 0A602. BIS said it is trying to reduce the procedural burdens and costs of export compliance on the U.S. firearms industry while allowing the U.S. government to enforce export controls for firearms appropriately and make better use of its export control resources.

However, Menendez said firearms and ammunition are “uniquely dangerous” and are easily modified, diverted, and proliferated, meaning “they should be subject to more, not less, rigorous export controls and oversight.” In particular, he said, combat rifles and rifles of any type that are U.S. military standard, along with semi-automatic firearms and any related equipment, ammunition, or associated manufacturing equipment, technology, or technical data, should not be removed from the USML.

Menendez expressed concern that the proposed rules would effectively eliminate congressional oversight and potential disapproval of exports of lethal weapons. In addition, he said, they present a risk of “open[ing] the floodgates of information for the 3D printing of nearly-undetectable firearms and components by foreign persons and terrorists that intend to harm U.S. citizens and interests.” In so doing, he added, the proposals may be at odds with the Export Control Reform Act of 2018, which authorizes the Department of Commerce (which oversees the CCL) to control emerging and foundational technologies (such as 3D printing). Menendez said his hold will remain in place until these issues are sufficiently addressed.

Blocking this and other transfers from the USML would also be the result of the Prevent Crime and Terrorism Act (H.R. 1134) introduced recently in the House.

For more information on export control issues, please contact Kristine Pirnia at (202) 730-4964.

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