By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Congressional Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, have asked the U.S. Commerce Department to curb assault weapons exports and increase oversight of gun exports after a Trump-era ruling to ease firearms export laws pushed sales up, according to a letter sent on Wednesday and seen by Reuters.
The lawmakers wrote that they have "grave concern about Commerce Department actions that have weakened oversight of assault weapon and high-capacity magazine exports, padding the gun industry's profits while putting deadly weapons in the hands of corrupt actors around the world."
The letter, which was signed by Warren and Senator Chris Murphy, as well as Representatives Joaquin Castro and Norma Torres, was sent to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
In 2020, President Donald Trump's administration eased firearms exports when it moved export license oversight from the U.S. State Department to the Commerce Department.
The rule change was expected to increase business for gunmakers such as Smith & Wesson Brands Inc and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc.
In the first 16 months since the Commerce Department took over firearm export licensing, it approved nearly $16 billion worth of licenses. The lawmakers, citing U.S government data, said that was a 30% increase from when the State Department controlled firearms licensing.
"It's hard to see how the Commerce Department's increased approvals for assault weapons exports is consistent with the Administration's gun safety agenda and commitment to return firearm license export controls to the State Department," Warren said in a statement.
Warren and the other Democrats also expressed concern that since taking over oversight, the Commerce Department had denied 0.4% of license applications and approved 95%.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)