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Trump Administration Finalizes Removal of ITAR “Gunsmith License”

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Article first appeared on Ammoland.com

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- The Trump administration is at the point of finalizing reform of antiquated Cold War rules which were used to target gunsmiths and small gun manufacturers. Included in the reforms is the transfer of responsibility for the export of most firearms and ammunition from the Department of State to the Department of  Commerce.

In 2016, the State Department, under the Obama administration, “clarified” the definition of “manufacturers” who were required to register under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The registration fee was $2,250 per year.  PNJ.com reports the actions of the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC):

The DDTC defined manufacturing as, among other things: The production of firearm parts, the systemized production of ammunition, modifications that change round capacity, the machining or cutting of firearms resulting in enhanced capability, and use of any special tooling or equipment upgrading in order to improve the capability of assembled or repaired firearms.

The change in definition appeared to cover everything from drilling and tapping for scope mounts to threading a barrel. It impacted the small gunsmith, for whom $2,250 a year would be a large expenditure, more than large manufacturers. Those small gunsmiths are the least likely to be a threat to the United States military.

Attempts to reform the bureaucratic attack on gunsmiths began immediately. Return to the status quo was opposed by those who wish a disarmed population.

The Trump administration worked to return to the original situation for gunsmiths while reforming antiquated, restrictive rules of firearms exports which had accumulated under ITAR.

The final form of the new rules is expected to be published on 23 January 2020. There will be a 45 day period after that before the rules go into effect. From NSSF:

WASHINGTON — NEWTOWN, Conn. — The National Shooting Sports Foundation® (NSSF®), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, applauds the Trump administration’s posting for public inspection of the final rules that modernize the export regulations for sporting and commercial firearms and ammunition products. The formal publication of the final rule is scheduled for Jan. 23. The rules will be implemented 45 days after formal publication.

President Donald Trump’s administration successfully completed the long-promised modernization of the export control regulations that began more than eight years ago under the prior administration, but which was never completed due to domestic gun control reasons.

“This is a tremendous achievement for the firearms and ammunition industry. We salute the Trump administration for modernizing our nation’s outdated Cold War era export controls and putting American manufacturers on an even playing field with their foreign competitors,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs and General Counsel. “This initiative will enable U.S. manufacturers to create more good-paying jobs in America while also helping to strengthen our national security.”

The rules issued today transfer export licensing of sporting and commercial firearms and ammunition products to the Commerce Department from the State Department. This change removes unnecessary and outdated regulations and allows the State to focus its export control resources on those items that give our warfighters a tactical advantage. It makes no sense to treat the commercial sale of hunting or target shooting rifles with the same level of scrutiny as nuclear weapons, tanks and fighter aircraft.

The new rules also eliminate a punitive annual $2,250 registration fee that gunsmiths and small companies who do not manufacture, nor export firearms or ammunition products were forced to pay.

The new rules will need to be examined carefully to see what they do and do not cover. It appears silencers/suppressors for sporting firearms will not be included in the transfer to Commerce. They should be. They are a simple technology shown to be beneficial in non-military settings. Many countries in the First World have little or no regulation of silencers/suppressors.

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For example, any child with a few dollars in New Zealand, can walk into a store and walk out with a silencer/suppressor, yet silencers/suppressors are almost never used in New Zealand crimes.

Some are saying the transfer to Commerce will remove the restrictions that were placed on the publication of files for the 3D printing of firearms parts.  That would be a welcome change, and a fulfillment of parts of the settlement the Department of State made with Defense Distributed, in conformance with respect for the First Amendment.

A reading of the explanation of the proposed rules shows that files containing code for 3D printed firearms will still be controlled by the Department of Commerce. From the file to be published in the Federal Register, listed on amazonnews.com:

Given concerns regarding First Amendment restrictions the control is appropriately tailored to only impact technology and software in an electronic format, such as AMF or G-code, that is ready for direct insertion into a computer numerically controlled machine tool, additive manufacturing equipment to produce the firearm frame or receiver or complete firearm.

It is not clear this will stand a court test on First Amendment grounds. The controls will not impact the distribution of such files in drives or printed on paper.

The rule might be circumvented by rendering AMF or G-code files in such a manner they would have to be corrected or altered before use.

The reason given for the necessity of control of these files is suspect:

As a result, Commerce has reached the conclusion that U.S. national security and foreign policy necessitate that BIS maintain controls over the 3D printing of firearms when such software and technology is posted on the internet. The potential for the ease of access to the software and technology, undetectable means of production, and potential to inflict harm on U.S. persons and allies abroad present a grave concern for the United States.Without regulatory oversight, U.S. foreign relations and national security interests could be seriously compromised. For these reasons, this final rule provides that technology and software ready for insertion into an automated manufacturing tool that makes use of the software or technology to produce a firearm frame, receiver, or complete firearm is subject to the EAR, consistent with the regulation of such software and technology when previously controlled under the USML.

None of the above rationales is based on a “military advantage” of the United States. It seems, peculiarly, to be based on the idea of preserving foreign governments’ limited ability to keep their populations unarmed. It is based entirely on subjective hypotheticals and potentials. All of those are based on the assumption armed populations (other than those of the United States) are entirely detrimental.

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The transfer of controls from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce, the elimination of the burdensome fee for gunsmith activities, and the easing of export controls for common, commercially available firearms and parts, are all welcome and useful reforms.

Exactly how the regulations will work in practice remains to be seen.


About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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