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By: Danielle Hatch

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to review the proposed changes to export controls of firearms, artillery, and ammunition from the State Department’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) control to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Export Administration Regulation (EAR) control. Their report evaluated the following:

  • The volume and value of commercial export license applications State reviewed for these items between 2013-2017
  • How certain export controls differ between the ITAR and EAR
  • What is known about the resource implications for State and Commerce due to the proposed transfer

GAO found that the State Department reviewed around 69,000 commercial export license applications for firearms, artillery, and ammunition valued at up to $45.4 billion over the 2013-2017 time frame. Approximately two-thirds of the applications were for firearms (the majority involved non-automatic and semi-automatic firearms). These are the proposed group of firearms that would move from ITAR-controlled to EAR-controlled.

The report noted the differences between Commerce and State’s export controls and how these differences would apply to firearms, artillery, and ammunition. Below is a quick breakdown of the biggest differences:

  • The ITAR requires manufacturers, exporters, and brokers to register for a fee. The EAR has no such requirement.
  • The State Department has an internal watch list which contains derogatory information from past screening of licenses for firearms, artillery, and ammunition exports which is used to screen parties in the licensing process. The Commerce Department screens parties to licenses but they do not have direct access to the internal watch list that State currently uses, meaning they lack critical information to effectively screen parties to exports of firearms and related items. (State and Commerce have held meetings but a decision on how to share the list has not yet been reached.)
  • Both agencies have end-use monitory programs to confirm the validity of end-users. State heavily relies on embassy staff to conduct end-use monitoring while Commerce uses several officers positioned overseas specifically for this purpose.
  • Currently there is a requirement to notify Congress of any proposed firearms exports over $1 million in the ITAR, the EAR has no such requirement so the proposed shift of items would remove this requirement for the sales of firearms that would potentially be controlled by the EAR.

Full GAO Report: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-307