Top Democrats Urge President Biden to Roll Back Dangerous Semiautomatic and Sniper Rifle Exports Deregulations
Apr 19 2021
Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to call on President Joe Biden to build on his administration’s recent actions to address the gun violence public health epidemic by immediately restoring Congressional oversight over the export of semiautomatic assault-style and sniper rifles.
In a new letter to the president, the senators reiterated the dangers of the Trump administration’s gutting of the oversight authority of U.S. firearm sales abroad by taking it away from the State Department’s Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Department. The strategic shift of jurisdiction was a massive boost for gun manufacturers by loosening meaningful congressional oversight of proposed foreign sales of military-style firearms including certain pistols, semi-automatic rifles, sniper rifles, related ammunition, as well as allowing for the proliferation of untraceable 3D printable guns. The previous review process under the Arms Export Control Act allowed for Congressional notification and review of proposed arms sales above $1 million, which allowed the Congress to stop dangerous sales of such arms to human rights abusers.
“These lethal weapons are the most easily proliferated and hardest to control, and are used far more often in atrocities against innocents than any other weapon or weapon system. These are truly weapons of war, designed to kill large numbers of people very quickly,” the senators wrote. “As such, they have been used in mass shooting after mass shooting since the assault rifle ban expired in 2004. They have no place being sold to civilians in this country or any other; we cannot, therefore, leave in place the less-restrictive controls at the Commerce Department on exports of these lethal weapons.”
A copy of the letter is available here and below:
Dear Mr. President:
We welcome your actions on April 8, 2021, to curb gun violence in this country and increase checks and oversight on sales of ghost guns and components, and we strongly support your initiative to ban assault-style semiautomatic rifles. In this vein, we encourage you to take the further step of immediately restoring control of the export of these weapons back to the jurisdiction of the Department of State, and the oversight of the Congress, from the less-rigorous controls of the Department of Commerce to which the last Administration transferred them, as you promised during the campaign.
These lethal weapons are the most easily proliferated and hardest to control, and are used far more often in atrocities against innocents than any other weapon or weapon system. These are truly weapons of war, designed to kill large numbers of people very quickly. As such, they have been used in mass shooting after mass shooting since the assault rifle ban expired in 2004. They have no place being sold to civilians in this country or any other; we cannot, therefore, leave in place the less-restrictive controls at the Commerce Department on exports of these lethal weapons. The same is true for sniper rifles, also transferred to Commerce, and which have been used to such deadly effect by the drug cartels in Mexico against police and other security forces.
Not only did the Trump Administration weaken export control of these weapons – largely to please the gun manufacturers – but in so doing also eliminated Congress’s ability to be aware of and legally disapprove of such sales above $1 million, since the transfer removed these exports from the application of the Arms Export Control Act. This despite Congress having acted through the 2002 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, when you were the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to increase Congressional oversight over the export of these weapons, from the standard review threshold of $50 million to $1 million per sale.
Restoring the export control of semiautomatic assault-style and sniper rifles to State is a change your Administration can effect in short order without legislation and without approval from Congress, but through the regulatory process. For U.S. foreign policy and national security, and for the sake of humanity, these weapons need to be controlled as lethal defense articles on the U.S. Munitions List.
We understand that your Administration also reviewing the transfer of 3D Gun printing information from State to Commerce, which would also have occurred but for an injunction by a Federal district court judge in response to a lawsuit by 21 states’ Attorneys General. These weapons could easily be smuggled onto aircraft or into schools, U.S. embassies and consulates, or other Federal facilities by eluding detection by standard metal detectors, putting innocent Americans and others at great risk. Transferring export control over all semi-automatic firearms back to the State Department would also address this problem.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.