Republican lawmakers ask Commerce Dept to explain firearm export pause

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -More than 80 U.S. House Republican lawmakers asked the Commerce Department on Tuesday to answer questions on its Oct. 27 decision to temporarily stop issuing export licenses for most civilian firearms and ammunition for non-governmental users.

Republican Representative Mark Green, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, led the letter that demands answers from 88 lawmakers on "the unprecedented and reckless restriction on civilian firearm exports."

The Commerce Department's 90-day pause has some exemptions including export licenses for Ukraine and Israel, as well as some other close allies. The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pause affects, among others, shotguns and optical sights and the Commerce Department said last month an urgent review will assess the "risk of firearms being diverted to entities or activities that promote regional instability, violate human rights, or fuel criminal activities."

The letter, which was also signed by Armed Services Committee chair Mike Rogers, Oversight chair James Comer and Transportation and Infrastructure chair Sam Graves, seeks answers by Nov. 13 to a series of questions and argues that "continuing this pause will only weaken law-abiding civilians and hand criminal actors a monopoly of force."

The Republican party has consistently defended gun ownership rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, while many Democrats have called for new restrictions after a series of mass shootings.

The letter also said the decision could "adversely affect thousands of Americans whose jobs involve the manufacturing or shipping of these items to overseas locations."

The halt covers most of the guns and ammunition that could be purchased in a U.S. gun store. U.S. companies that sell firearms, including Sturm Ruger & Co., Smith & Wesson Brands and Vista Outdoor, could be affected by the export ban.

Overseas customers include distributors and stores that sell firearms. Exporters can continue to submit license requests during the pause, but they will be "held without action" until the pause is lifted.

The pause does not affect previously issued export licenses, the Commerce Department said. For shipments to government clients, exporters must name specific end users, while applications with unnamed government, military, and police users will be "returned without action."

(Reporting by David Shepardson, editing by Deepa Babington)