Groups fight fed rule on gun exports
WASHINGTON — Two Connecticut gun-violence-prevention groups are among more than 100 that signed a letter Tuesday urging Congress to block a proposed federal rule to ease restrictions on U.S. firearms manufacturer sales to foreign nations and possibly make it easier to disseminate untraceable weapons made with 3D printers.
Transferring U.S. government oversight of such transactions from the State Department to the Commerce Department would “create new and unacceptable
risks of exacerbating gun violence, human rights abuses, and armed conflict” overseas, the letter stated.
Connecticut Against Gun Violence and Newtown Action Alliance were among the signatories. The gun-violence issue resonates in Connecticut in large measure because of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
Firearms manufacturer groups such as the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation hailed the rule when it was proposed last year. Connecticut gun manufacturers such as Colt, Stag Arms and O.F. Mossberg & Sons would stand to benefit from increased sales.
In addition to the guncontrol groups, Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal have signed on to legislation that would keep the State Department in charge of licensing gun sales abroad.
“Gun violence is an epidemic that has claimed thousands of American lives and torn apart communities from coast to coast,” Blumenthal said. “So what is the Trump Administration doing about it? Loosening restrictions on the flow of foreign small arms into our country and giving a free pass to anyone with a 3D printer and access to the internet who wants to create their own unregistered assault weapon, pistol or shotgun.”
The senators and the groups may have the unlikeliest ally of all: President Donald Trump. Despite regular appearances at annual National Rifle Association conventions and support for armed teachers as the antidote to school shootings, Trump may have misgivings about doing anything that makes it easier to obtain 3D-printer weapons, known as “ghost guns.”
Last summer, he tweeted his doubts about 3D weaponry, which can be produced at home with no serial numbers, and is virtually untraceable.
But Trump supports the shift of oversight from State to Commerce, so it is not clear whether qualms about 3D printing would imperil the entire rule. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
“I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump tweeted on July 31. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Newtown Action Alliance, Connecticut Against Gun Violence and the other groups are invoking images of terrorists easily obtaining weapons to rally support against the rule.
The letter Tuesday said: “The proposal would also transfer control of the technical information and blueprints for potentially undetectable 3D-printed guns from State to Commerce, a move that could facilitate printing of 3D guns worldwide, make these weapons readily available to terrorist groups and other criminal elements, and endanger American embassies, military bases, and passenger aircraft at home and abroad.”
Their principle objection is that under State Department oversight of its Munitions Control List, Congress is automatically notified of gun sales overseas that exceed $1 million in value. Under Commerce Department control, there would be no notification. They point to congressional notification forcing the cancellation of sales to police forces in Turkey and the Philippines.
A spokesman for the NSSF argued that federal law dating to the 1980s already forbids manufacturing and possession of undetectable weapons.
“An export license would be required now to export the technology to 3D print a firearm, and will remain so after the administration publishes the final rules,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel.
The group, the main trade organization of the firearms industry, remains optimistic the rule will go into effect eventually.
“We have every reason to believe the U.S Munitions List transition to the Commerce Control List will be signed in a matter of weeks,” said NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva.