Gun Control Goes International With Latest Attacks On Firearms Industry

by
posted on March 26, 2024
Mexico border
Photo: THEPALMER/Getty

Firearm prohibitionists have recently been looking abroad to find new ways of attacking the U.S. gun industry, which Joe Biden has referred to as “the enemy.” And, if they have to disarm vulnerable civilians in war zones or team up with corrupt foreign regimes to do it, well, they obviously believe the ends justify the means.

Biden is so determined to crack down on gun companies, in fact, that he is poised to roll back an export-reform initiative that actually began during the Obama/Biden administration. That effort was prompted by experts in the defense and commercial sectors who realized America’s Cold War approach to export regulation was outdated and counterproductive both to international security and the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in international markets.

A large-scale effort thus began near the end of Obama’s first term to reform export oversight of “dual-use items,” i.e., those with both commercial and military applications. It involved a series of public rulemakings to categorize defense articles by whether or not they “provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence advantage, or, in the case of weapons, are inherently for military end use.” If so, exports would be overseen by the State Dept., with security taking precedence in decision-making. If not, exports would be overseen by the Commerce Dept., which would more holistically promote American goods against foreign competitors, while maintaining adequate safeguards to keep potentially dangerous items out of the wrong hands.

One official summarized the objective as “building a taller fence around a smaller yard.” In other words, stricter oversight would be refocused to where it was really needed.

The advantages of this plan in terms of both keeping the peace and advancing the country’s manufacturing and economic strength gained bipartisan support. That is, except when it came to firearms. When the project began, the Commerce Dept. was already overseeing exports of most shotguns, as well as their related parts, components, accessories and ammunition. One of the earliest proposed rules that was drafted would have therefore moved other “non-military” firearms, ammunition and related items to Commerce’s jurisdiction. This made perfect sense, as these items are already legal and widely available throughout most of the world. Moreover, American versions of these products are highly sought-after by international buyers.

The Obama/Biden administration, however, decided early in its second term to put gun control at the center of its politics. Thus, the firearm rule languished, even as more sophisticated and consequential items—including spacecraft and satellites, explosives and propellants, and toxicological agents—were recategorized without attracting much notice nor outcry.

It took the election of President Trump to finish the process of export reform where it had started, with the publication of the firearm rule. Trump’s involvement, however, gave the gun-control movement all the impetus it needed to mount furious, even hysterical, resistance to the final rule. But the rule prevailed, and American companies have been selling ordinary guns and related items abroad under the watchful but relatively accommodating eye of the U.S. Commerce Dept. ever since.

Nevertheless, as with most of their schemes, firearm-prohibition proponents did not abandon the idea of hindering legal exports but merely bided their time for a more opportune moment to resurrect this agenda. With Joe Biden pledging to use the full weight of his executive authority to pursue gun control, that moment has arrived.

The effort began, as is typical, with propaganda pieces by the anti-gun media. Bloomberg News—owned by notoriously anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg—launched a multi-part “investigation” of U.S. firearm exports last year to gin up outrage over the unremarkable fact that the Commerce Dept. was promoting U.S. gun companies to eligible foreign customers. They also highlighted crimes committed overseas involving U.S. guns, although at least one report acknowledged that other countries, including China and Turkey, export guns as well. Yet the solution proposed by the Bloomberg scriveners was to crack down on U.S. firearm exports and roll back the liberalization they blamed mainly on President Trump.

Gun-control activists even used the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel as a rallying cry to demand additional export restrictions. Incredibly, they cited fears that Israeli citizens—who were targeted by the terrorists and in some cases defended themselves with lawfully held firearms—might gain additional access to American guns and use them without “sufficient government oversight.”

By late October, the Biden Administration had imposed an unprecedented and heavy-handed “pause” on otherwise-lawful firearms exports, supposedly to evaluate the adequacy of existing rules. While Israel and Ukraine were initially exempted, firearms-news site The Reload later published a draft rule that was underway to severely restrict firearm exports, including, according to that report, to America’s Israeli and Ukrainian allies.

Bloomberg News, meanwhile, published another article in late January crowing that “Biden Aims to Impose Tightest Gun-Export Restrictions in Decades.” Among the changes, according to that article, would be a “presumption of denial” to various countries that Commerce currently treats with a “presumption of approval.” Other reported proposals included a U.S. registry of exported firearm end users, identified by passport data. It seems that if gun-controllers can’t immediately impose their dream of a national firearms registry on U.S. residents, they might start with those who buy Americans guns overseas. In the meantime, the 90-day “pause” continued after its expiration date, with no end in sight.

Ironically, virtually every foreign country that would be subject to these new restrictions has the entire wish-list of gun controls that prohibition advocates insist would end firearm-related crime here in the U.S. These include broad restrictions on the types and amounts of guns that civilians can own; “needs-based” licensing that excludes self-defense; “safe-storage” requirements; “universal” background checks; etc., etc. Somehow, none of this is enough to reassure those same prohibitionists when it comes to the places where the U.S. exports guns.

Even more ironically, there’s no reason to believe the export “reforms” activists are demanding would decrease the international market for guns. Instead, they would simply ensure that countries with far less scrupulous oversight than the U.S. would more often fulfill that demand. This would set the stage for even more diversion, with all the problems that entails. Indeed, even the Obama/Biden regime originally understood this.

But if diverting the international gun market to foreign adversaries was not enough, another current tactic being undertaken by gun-control advocates is to team up with dubious foreign officials to sue the U.S. gun industry for the foreign country’s own rampant crime.

Long-time American gun-control advocates, including Brady alumni Elizabeth Burke, Dennis Henigan and Jonathan Lowy, have registered as the agents of a foreign power to pursue the project. Their first client is none other than Mexico, which is seeking billions of dollars in damages from various U.S. gun companies for crimes committed by Mexican drug cartels. These lawsuits are currently pending in federal courts in both Arizona and Massachusetts.

In January, a three-judge panel of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals revived the Massachusetts case, which had been dismissed by a trial judge in 2022. That judge ruled the suit was blocked by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal law that prohibits firearm industry members who lawfully sell guns from being sued for the misuse of those guns by criminals.

The First Circuit panel that overruled that decision argued that Mexico had, in fact, alleged illegal conduct on the part of industry defendants, specifically, “aiding and abetting” the illegal smuggling of guns across the border. But rather than focus on a specific violation of a specific statute (as the plain language of the PLCAA requires), Mexico’s claims fault the industry for “systemic” offenses in the way it conducts its business. These include the supposed “military” character of the guns it produces, as well as advertising that alludes to their “military-grade” performance. Mexico claims these practices are intentionally designed to “boost sales” to Mexican drug cartels through illegal smuggling.

Of course, there is no law that says the firearms industry has to produce shoddy guns so criminals won’t want them. Polls show Americans overwhelmingly own guns for self-defense, so it is only natural they would support companies whose products have proven themselves under the rigors of professional use. Producing and marketing high-performing products for the American market is not a crime, even if criminals happen to like them as well.

The plaintiffs likely understand this, but winning on the merits isn’t necessary to achieve their goals. The whole point of the PLCAA is protecting a lawful industry from a firehose of meritless litigation that could bankrupt it with defense costs. If the First Circuit’s ruling is allowed to stand, it would create a hole in the PLCAA’s protection wider than the Rio Grande itself and cripple U.S. gun companies.

The lesson here is that gun-control advocates are after our uniquely American freedom to keep and bear arms … and they don’t care who they have to partner with to take it.

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