4 Things to Know About Biden’s Latest Attack on Gun Ownership and Firearms Industry

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s an open secret that the Biden administration disdains lawful civilian gun owners almost as much as it does the lawful gun industry. But in case there was any doubt, new gun export regulations published late last month by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security make the administration’s position painfully clear: It doesn’t think ordinary civilians can be trusted with firearms.

The interim final rule on gun exports, published April 30, significantly alters licensing policies for U.S. companies seeking to lawfully export guns and ammunition to civilian markets in other countries. And although it doesn’t necessarily affect American gun owners, it does show the Biden administration’s true colors on the natural right of self-defense—but projected into the international arena.

Here are four things to know about how the rule attacks the lawful gun industry and civilian gun ownership more broadly.

1. The rule on gun exports has been many months in the making. The Commerce Department’s rule on gun exports appears to be the end result of a much longer plan to attack the lawful gun industry by imposing more stringent processes for gun export licenses.

Last fall, Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security issued a sudden, largely unexplained 90-day “pause” on issuing new export licenses for guns and ammo meant for foreign civilian markets, while keeping the process unchanged for exports to foreign governments.

Despite congressional demands for answers, the bureau extended the pause for several more months even as leaked draft regulations made clear that the Biden administration was in fact looking to make life more complicated for exporters to legal civilian markets.

2. The rule creates a bureaucratic nightmare and expands U.S. world-policing efforts. Among the changes to export licensing rules are some that appear designed to do little more than impose arbitrary burdens on the lawful U.S. gun industry.

For example, although U.S. companies currently obtain export licenses that last for four years, under the new rule they will be required to seek a new export license on an annual basis.

Additionally, the Bureau of Industry and Security will revoke thousands of currently valid export licenses and require those businesses to reapply under new, more stringent application review processes.

This will inevitably result in licensees being perpetually entangled in bureaucratic red tape, as the Commerce Department agency now will have to process thousands of additional licenses every year without adequate staff, almost ensuring significant backlogs.

Other changes found in the rule will increase the federal government’ efforts to police not only civilian gun markets in other countries, but also thousands of individual foreign citizens who legally buy American-made firearms in certain foreign countries.

That’s particularly concerning for Israelis who buy U.S. gun exports, as it opens doors for the Biden administration to follow through on threats to their visas if they use firearms in self-defense against terrorists.

3. The rule wrongly blames lawful gun owners for criminal gun trafficking. It creates a list of over 30 countries for which export licenses to civilian end-users will be subjected to a “presumption of denial.”

In short, exports to government entities in these countries, such as militaries and police forces, may continue as usual, but the Commerce Department bureau will presumptively deny applications to export guns to civilian markets in those same countries.

Many of the countries are located in regions full of instability and notorious for both criminal gun violence and longstanding problems with government corruption, such as Central America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia.

The Bureau of Industry and Security defends this change by claiming—erroneously—that firearms lawfully exported to civilians are more likely to be diverted into black markets than firearms lawfully sold to foreign militaries and police agencies.

Here, BIS bites hook, line, and sinker into the international gun control narrative that, far from a human right to self-defense, there’s actually a human right to strict gun control. Apparently, the bureau believes even corrupt and inept governments are inherently more trustworthy with American-made guns than are ordinary civilians living under those governments.

This is, in a sense, an international projection of the Biden administration’s stance on lawful gun owners in the U.S.—they’re always the ones to blame for criminal violence.

In reality, just as studies on gun violence in the United States routinely show that lawful gun owners aren’t the major driving force behind criminal gun violence domestically, studies on crime, violence, and instability in other nations routinely point to government stockpiles and illegal imports—not lawful civilian purchases of legally imported guns—as the primary sources of criminal gun violence.

Consider one recent comprehensive analysis of the illicit firearms trade, which asserted that “research in a number of [global] regions has found that military stockpiles are one of the most common sources of weapons” that end up in the hands of criminal actors and terrorists.

This seems particularly true in the countries singled out by the new rule for a “presumption of denial” with respect to civilian exports. Contrary to BIS assertions that even corrupt governments are better able than civilians to secure their guns, a 2022 United Nations report on arms trafficking in East Africa concluded that “the diversion of firearms and ammunition from state stockpiles is a significant source of illicit firearms” in the region, “and is often facilitated by corrupt officials with access to weapons stores, including police and military stores, or others under the control of wildlife or custodial services.”

Meanwhile, experts in Central American arms trafficking insist that a major part of the problem is “endemic uncertainty” over the inventories and security of state arsenals, and that “[government] weapons are often ‘lost.’” Those “lost” firearms often end up diverted to criminal elements.

Other U.N. reports identify the largest sources of illegal firearms in Latin America as being “military and police stockpiles in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala,” all three of which now have been blacklisted for civilian (but not government) exports.

4. The rule relies on half-truths and misrepresentations. Just as concerning as the Bureau of Industry and Security’s misplaced blame on lawful gun owners is its reliance on half-truths and misrepresentations to justify that blame.

BIS relies on two government studies, one by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and one by the Government Accountability Office, both of which were conducted under a Biden administration that already has shown a propensity for trafficking in bad firearms data.

Additionally, the GAO report is essentially an earlier and more time-limited analysis of the same data used in the ATF report, which assessed the origins of crime guns submitted by foreign governments to ATF for tracing.

The Bureau of Industry and Security claims that these two reports show that “a substantial number of firearms recovered by foreign law enforcement agencies were lawfully exported from the United States,” including “nearly 20%” of crime-linked guns submitted for tracing in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, all four of which the new rule puts on the “presumption of denial” list.

But this characterization buries the lede: ATF admits in its report that “in many cases, trace requests are not submitted for firearms recovered in the four countries.” In fact, the government of Guatemala only submitted, at best, only 60% to 70% of all recovered guns used in crimes for tracing; the government of Honduras submitted trace requests for just 10% of recovered guns tied to crimes.

In other words, lawful U.S. exports didn’t comprise “nearly 20%” of all crime-linked guns in those countries. Rather, the exports accounted for 19% of the 10% of guns for which Honduras requested a trace, and 19% of the 60% to 70% of guns for which Guatemala requested a trace, and so on.

Moreover, the GAO report clarifies that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lumps all U.S.-sourced exports into one category, regardless of whether they were exports to government or civilian end-users. So that number of 19% includes all lawful exports, including those exported to foreign governments for use by their military or police forces.

Yet, despite the weight of the evidence demonstrating that this is largely a problem with government corruption and ineptitude, Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security flippantly places the blame squarely on the shoulders of civilian buyers.

The alternative intuitively makes more sense, given how incredibly difficult it is for ordinary civilians to legally obtain firearms in many of these countries in the first place.

In Papua New Guinea, for example, gun owners must obtain a license for every firearm, which will be issued only for “substantial cause” and expire after one year. Illegal possession of a firearm carries a sentence of up to 50 years in prison.

Meanwhile, in Panama, applicants for a gun license must submit certification from a licensed psychologist verifying their mental and emotional stability, pass a drug test, and complete a government-certified shooting range exam proving proficiency with the specific type of gun for which the permit is sought.

Additionally, for nearly a decade between 2011 and 2020, Panama’s  government imposed a complete ban on the importation of firearms for civilian use, causing the price even of used guns on the lawful civilian market to skyrocket to as high as $3,500 in U.S. currency. The civilian market in that country remains incredibly limited and expensive.

Realistically, what reason is there to believe that gun exports to civilians in these countries are truly to blame for any illicit arms trafficking?

Ordinary, law-abiding civilians who are willing to jump through incredibly expensive and time-consuming hoops just to possess a firearm—and who face lengthy criminal sanctions for minor missteps—typically are invested in acting responsibly and maintaining physical possession of their firearms.

Now a bureau of the Commerce Department is willing to draw a conclusion contrary to all rationality and the best available evidence. Why? Because it simply cannot fathom that ordinary civilians are less at fault for international arms trafficking than corrupt and inept governments.

Few seriously doubt that there are, at times, circumstances where U.S. security interests might require us to reevaluate and scrutinize gun exports to certain countries. In a sane world, we could have those discussions without fear that they’d devolve into bad-faith attacks on the merits of civilian gun ownership.

Instead, we have an administration that believes, fundamentally, that only governments should be trusted with guns. And the administration is willing to push this narrative with as many manipulated half-truths as necessary to undermine civilian owners—apparently both here and abroad.

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This article was published by Daily Signal and is reproduced with permission.

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