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As Commerce Dept. Starts Regulating Some Gun Exports, Experts Worry It Doesn’t Have All the Info It Needs

PROPUBLICA.ORG March 10, 2020 – When a U.S. company wants to export firearms, the sale requires authorization from the federal government, and for decades the State Department has been responsible for issuing approvals for most types of weapons, once it has assessed any impact on national security or foreign policy.

Now, after years of debate, the Commerce Department is set to take over export controls for a significant share of the smaller arms that U.S. companies sell to foreign buyers. The change is intended to allow the State Department to focus its efforts and expertise on arms that are considered most critical to U.S. national security, like missiles and tanks. Other weapons that have little or no stated military value will be left to the Commerce Department, which already regulates export of a vast range of goods, including shotguns and other “sporting” weapons.

But experts fear the change will open gaps in the oversight of weapons exports because the Commerce Department does not yet have access to the watchlist that the State Department has spent years building.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office concluded that without the State Department list, which has more than 200,000 entries, the Commerce Department may lack critical information to effectively screen parties.

Even as the change was set to go into effect this week, the State Department said on Friday that it was only in the “initial stages of transferring” its list to the Commerce Department for use in screening applicants for weapons export licenses.

A coalition of states, led by Washington state, is challenging one element of the new rules: which agency would regulate 3D-printed gun files. On Friday, a federal judge in Seattle temporarily halted any shift in regulation of software and technical data used to print firearms.

But the rest of the changes, moving regulation of most exports of semi-automatic guns to the Commerce Department, went into effect on Monday, with the transfer of information from the State Department still a work in progress and no date set for it to be completed.

A ProPublica analysis found over 200 people or businesses that were placed on the SAM list because of national security concerns or criminal convictions in connection with defense contracts but are not on the Consolidated Screening List.

Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, once a top CIA official, is among the names missing from Commerce’s public screening list. Foggo was one of seven people convicted in a defense contracting scandal; he was sentenced in 2009 to three years in federal prison. Also missing are at least 10 of the 20 people and businesses that the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found in 2012 to be “actively supporting an insurgency.”

Being on a list does not automatically preclude a person or company from exporting firearms. But it would be one of the factors considered in the review by the Commerce Department, or in the case of automatic weapons, by the State Department, which will continue to regulate exports of what is considered military-grade firepower. [full article]

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