House votes to block Trump bid to ease small-arms exports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives would block President Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul small-arms export policy to make it easier for gun makers to sell weapons like flamethrowers and grenades to foreign buyers.

The administration’s proposal would transfer regulation of some firearms exports to the Commerce Department from the State Department, which critics said would lessen oversight of such sales.

“This doesn’t prevent or create any new restrictions on arms exports. It simply protects congressional oversight, protects national security, and keeps deadly weapons from falling into the hands of drug cartels and terrorists. I urge its swift passage in the Senate,” Democratic U.S. Representative Norma Torres, who sponsored the amendment, said in a statement on Tuesday.

While State is primarily concerned about international threats to stability, Commerce typically focuses more on facilitating trade.

The legislation passed the House last week as an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which sets policy for the Pentagon.

The measure is several steps from becoming law. Now that the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate have both passed versions of the NDAA, they must come up with a compromise bill that must pass both chambers and be signed by Trump.

Advocates of the proposed change say it would free gun manufacturers from paying an annual licensing fee to the State Department and boost their ability to succeed in a competitive world market.

Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry association, called the House legislation “ill-advised and ill-considered.” He said Commerce was able to regulate arms exports as effectively as State.

Reuters first reported on the proposed rule changes in September 2017.

Trump sees the U.S. weapons industry as an important generator of jobs, and members of his Republican Party push consistently to ease gun regulation.

Trump’s shift in gun rules would generate business for gun makers such as American Outdoor Brands Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co.

Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Peter Cooney