The Trump administration is preparing to make it easier for U.S. gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers, according to senior U.S. officials.
Aides to President Donald Trump are completing a plan to shift oversight of international non-military firearms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department, four officials told Reuters.
While the State Department is primarily concerned about international threats to stability and maintains tight restrictions on weapons deals, the Commerce Department typically focuses more on facilitating trade.
The officials from multiple agencies, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the new rules will cut government red tape and regulatory costs, boosting U.S. exports of small arms.
“There will be more leeway to do arms sales,” one senior administration official told Reuters. “You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way.”
However, critics of the bill have expressed concern that any easing of export rules could make powerful weapons of the type often used in U.S. mass shootings more accessible around the world.
The State Department licensed an estimated US$4 billion in commercial firearms exports last year, of which US$3.2 billion would shift to the Commerce Department under the new arrangement, one U.S. official said.
The department change which can be accomplished without the approval of Congress, could be realized as early as spring 2018.
The officials stressed, however, that the proposed shift in oversight was not a blanket deregulation of firearms.
“The NSC is working through the interagency process with the State Department and the Department of Commerce to ensure that U.S. industries have every advantage in the global marketplace, while at the same time ensuring the responsible export of arms,” said an official with the White House National Security Council.
Share prices of Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor surged as much as 18 percent following the announcement.
The powerful U.S. gun lobby backed Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The National Rifle Association spent more than US$30 million in support of his candidacy. “I am going to come through for you,” Trump told the NRA convention in April.
In recent years, Canada, Australia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of South America, have been among the top destination countries for U.S. non-military firearms exports.
The shift to Commerce could increase sales by 15-20 percent annually, predicted Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association.