Commerce takes over swath of US firearm export controls

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is preparing to become the key licensing agency for exports of many American-made firearms, which were formerly under the jurisdiction of the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).

A final rule related to this switchover will be published in Wednesday’s Federal Register and will take effect in the next 45 days.

The licensing oversight transfer completes a process announced by the Commerce and State departments in May 2018 proposing the shift of firearms originally controlled under the U.S. Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Control List (CCL).

Specifically, the rule was developed as part of the larger export control regulations reform announced by the Obama administration in 2011 to determine which firearm exports no longer required control for military purposes under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

Transfers from the USML to CCL include certain firearms, close assault weapons and combat shotguns (USML Category I); guns and armament (USML Category II); and ammunition and ordnance (USML Category III).

The Commerce Department said the changes are “based on a thorough interagency review of those categories, after which the Department of State concluded that the items added to the CCL in this final rule do not provide a critical military or intelligence advantage to the United States and, in the case of firearms, do not have an inherently military function.”

The department added, “There is a significant worldwide market for items in connection with civil and recreational activities such as hunting, marksmanship, competitive shooting and other nonmilitary activities.”

The Commerce Department said the rule “does not deregulate” those items transferred from the USML to the CCL.

“Rather than decontrolling firearms and other items, in publishing this final rule, BIS, working with the Departments of Defense and State, is continuing to ensure that appropriate regulatory oversight will be exercised over exports, reexports and transfers (in country) of these items while reducing the procedural burdens and costs of export compliance on the U.S. firearms industry and allowing the U.S. government to make better use of its export control resources,” the Commerce Department said.

For the firearms that have been transferred from the USML’s Categories I, II and III to the CCL, BIS has created export control classification numbers (ECCNs), known as the “600” series because the third character in each of the new numbers is a six.

The Commerce Department said the rule took time to develop. BIS received nearly 3,000 related comments during the proposed rule stage, which it had to review and consider for the final rule.