WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is moving forward with plans to make it easier to sell small arms abroad.

The State department has submitted a request to shift oversight on small-arms exports, such as semiautomatic rifles, from State to Commerce, kicking off a 45-day review period of the new policy, which has been long sought by the gun industry.

The move impacts any firearms that are “widely available” in U.S. stores for commercial sale. However, State would maintain oversight on any weapons sold primarily for military use.

It’s a move that arms manufacturers have sought for years, with hopes of selling more weapons abroad – one that aligns with the Trump administration’s stance that economic security and national security are irrevocably linked.

But while the Trump administration is pushing forward the policy, discussion about moving such weapons to Commerce has been underway for years as part of the Obama administration’s export reform efforts. Under that umbrella, the State department went through the various categories of export rules and looked to move as much as possible over to Commerce, in order to encourage exports and free up State regulators to spend more time on large defense items.

“These changes will significantly reduce the regulatory burden on the U.S. commercial firearms and ammunition industry, promote American exports, and clarify the regulatory requirements for independent gunsmiths, while at the same time prioritizing national security controls and continuing our ability to restrict exports where human rights, illicit trafficking, and related issues may be of concern,” a State department spokesman told Defense News on background.

During the 45-day comment period, arms control groups are expected to object over fears such weapons may be used against civilian populations. While State continues to have oversight on military-grade weapons, sales of semiautomatic weapons for police forces would now be outside the agency’s jurisdiction.

In 2016, Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin, D-Md., helped block the sale of rifles to police in Philippines over human rights concerns. In a May 15 statement, he warned that “weakened Congressional oversight of international small arms and munitions sales is extremely hazardous to global security.”

“Small arms and light weapons are among the most lethal weapons that we and other countries export because these are the weapons that are most likely to be used to commit atrocities and suppress human rights, either by individuals, non-state groups, or governmental security and para-military forces,” said Cardin.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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