House Republicans Investigating Commerce Department’s 90-Day Block on Firearm Export Licenses

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
November 29, 2023Politics
House Republicans Investigating Commerce Department’s 90-Day Block on Firearm Export Licenses
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee James Comer (R-Ky.) delivers remarks during a Committee hearing titled “The Basis for an Impeachment Inquiry of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.” on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 28, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

House Republicans are launching a new probe into the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision last month to stop issuing new export licenses for most civilian firearms and ammunition sold to non-government users for 90 days.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) called on the department to provide Congress with a staff-level briefing on the pause by no later than Dec. 5.

Mr. Comer’s letter also called on the Commerce Department to turn over all documents and communications pertaining to the 90-day pause on firearm export licenses, including any communications with the Biden White House about the pause, by Dec. 12.

The Commerce Department’s order blocks the issuance of new export licenses for firearms, firearm components, and ammunition for non-governmental end users worldwide, except for those in Ukraine, Israel, or a group of nations that are party to a multilateral export-control agreement with the United States. The pause impacts new exports to major markets for U.S. firearms such as Brazil, Thailand, and Guatemala.

The 90-day pause does not affect holders of current valid licenses, and new industry members can still submit export license applications during the pause, but their paperwork will be “held without action” until the pause is lifted.

Those seeking new licenses to export to government end users must name the specific end users, and applications with unnamed government, military, and police users will be “returned without action.”

U.S. companies that sell firearms, including Sturm, Ruger & Co., Smith & Wesson Brands, and Vista Outdoor, could be impacted by the pause.

Republicans Question Justifications For Pause

Detailing the policy last month, the Commerce Department said the 90-day pause will allow Commerce officials to “more effectively assess and mitigate risk of firearms being diverted to entities or activities that promote regional instability, violate human rights, or fuel criminal activities.” Mr. Comer, on the other hand, said the Commerce Department had provided no specific examples to support its reasoning for the pause, and instead suggested its true intent may have been to advance an anti-gun agenda sought by the broader Biden administration.

“This action has raised concern about a possible extralegal attempt by the Biden Administration to harm the domestic firearms manufacturing industry in pursuit of an anti-firearm agenda by starving it of access to international markets for at least 90 days, perhaps indefinitely,” Mr. Comer’s letter to Ms. Raimondo reads.

Mr. Comer said Commerce Department briefers who testify before Congress should be prepared to fully explain the rationale for the 90-day pause, answer whether the idea to implement the pause originated within the department or elsewhere, and reveal what other entities may have been involved in the decision. He also called for the Commerce Department to provide an assessment of the impact the 90-day pause will have on U.S. firearms, firearms parts, and ammunition industry members.

Mr. Comer’s Tuesday letter came after 46 Republican Senators sent their own letter to Ms. Raimondo on Nov. 16, raising “significant concerns about the justifications for and ramifications of this pause.” The Republican Senators noted an assessment by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)—a firearms industry trade association—that estimated the industry would lose at least $89 million in the course of the 90-day pause, and at least $238 million annually should the pause become permanent. They called for the Commerce Department to answer several questions about the pause by Nov. 30.

NTD reached out to the Commerce Department for comment, including more details about its rationale for the 90-day pause, but the department did not respond by press time.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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