If you manufacture firearms, firearm components or ammunition, you are required to register your business with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) of the U.S. State Department and pay a $2,250 annual fee, unless the only products you make fall within a narrow set of exceptions. Same thing if you manufacture suppressors or suppressor components or military grade sights or scopes or other attachments or accessories to covered firearms.
For practical purposes, all firearms are covered except non-combat shotguns with barrel lengths of 18 inches or longer, BB and pellet guns and muzzle-loading firearms. Most accessories and almost all ammunition are covered, too, The only accessories that are not covered are riflescopes and sighting devices that are not made to military specifications, as well as accessories and attachments, like slings, belts and cleaning kits, which do not enhance the usefulness, effectiveness or capabilities of the firearm or covered component. The only ammunition that is not covered is sporting shotgun ammo. So, if the only firearm products you make are described in this paragraph, you don’t have to register. Otherwise, you almost certainly do.
Why do I have to register?
The requirement for firearms and ammunition manufacturers to register comes from Section 122.1 of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, known as the ITAR. The ITAR are the regulations that implement the Arms Export Control Act of 1976.
ITAR Section 122.1(a) reads as follows:
Any person who engages in the United States in the business of manufacturing or exporting or temporarily importing defense articles, or furnishing defense services, is required to register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls under §122.2. For the purpose of this subchapter, engaging in such a business requires only one occasion of manufacturing or exporting or temporarily importing a defense article or furnishing a defense service. A manufacturer who does not engage in exporting must nevertheless register.
“Defense articles” is defined in ITAR Section 121 to include the firearms, components, accessories and ammunition described in the first paragraph of this Advisory (among many other things). ITAR Section 121.1 contains the United States Munitions List (USML), which lists 21 categories of defense articles. The defense articles we’re talking about here are listed in Categories I, II, and III. Category I includes firearms, components and accessories, as described above, up to 50 caliber. Category II includes “guns and armament” over 50 caliber and Category III includes ammunition, ammunition components and most ammunition manufacturing equipment. The entire ITAR can be found here.
So, the answer to your question, “Why do I need to register?” is that ITAR Section 122.1 says you have to. Having said that, NSSF is working hard to ease this requirement significantly. An overhaul of the ITAR, referred to as “export control reform” or “ECR,” has been underway for the last several years. The objective of ECR is to reduce the burden that the ITAR imposes on U.S. exporters of defense articles. ECR has already resulted in significant changes to most categories of defense articles but revisions to Categories I, II, and III are stalled due to the sensitivity of gun control issues in the current political environment.
How do I register?
Registration is accomplished by filing a DS-2032 Statement of Registration with DDTC and paying a $2,250 fee. The Statement of Registration form and instructions for completing it can be found here. Some portions of the form can be hard to understand without help. The instruction page on the DDTC website provides the phone number and email address for the DDTC Response Team, and they can be very helpful, but if you still need help after contacting them, you may want to seek professional advice. Registration must be renewed annually, and the fee needs to be paid each year, too. In addition, there are requirements to keep DDTC apprised, sometimes in advance, of changes to information in the Statement of Registration. These requirements can be found in ITAR Section 122.4. Click here to see Section 122.4.
NSSF is working to reduce the $2,250 annual registration fee while revisions to ITAR Categories I, II and III are stalled but, for the time being, the $2,250 fee stands. More information about the NSSF’s export control reform efforts on behalf of the industry can be found here.
Some bad news
Okay. You do what you’re supposed to do and register as a manufacturer of firearms, components, accessories or ammunition. Now, you’re good, right?
Unfortunately, no. It’s not that simple. Registering is just the beginning. You are also required to have a compliance program to prevent inadvertent, or intentional, violations of the ITAR. DDTC has published guidelines to help companies create their ITAR compliance programs, but, like the ITAR itself, the guidelines can be difficult to understand.
We will walk through these guidelines in upcoming Advisories.