(Adds context, background)
By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON, May 22 (Reuters) - The Trump administration is preparing to publish on Thursday long-delayed proposed rule changes for the export of U.S. firearms, a State Department official said on Tuesday.
The rule changes would move the oversight of commercial firearm exports from the U.S. Department of State to the Department of Commerce.
The action is part of a broader Trump administration overhaul of weapons export policy that was announced in April.
Timing for the formal publication of the rule change and the opening of the public comment period was unveiled by Mike Miller the acting secretary for the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, the State Department's body that currently oversees the bulk of commercial firearms transfers and other foreign military sales. He was speaking at the Forum on the Arms Trade's annual conference at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.
Reuters first reported on the proposed rule changes in September as the Trump administration was preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers.
Domestic gun sales have fallen significantly after soaring under President Barack Obama, when gun enthusiasts stockpiled weapons and ammunition out of fear that the government would tighten gun laws.
A move by the Trump administration to make it simpler to sell small arms abroad may generate business for gun makers American Outdoor Brands and Sturm Ruger & Company in an industry experiencing a deep sales slump since the election of President Donald Trump.
Remington, America's oldest gun maker, filed for bankruptcy protection in March, weeks after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people and triggered intensified campaigns for gun control by activists. Remington emerged from bankruptcy last week.
The expected relaxing of rules could increase foreign gun sales by as much as 20 percent, the National Sports Shooting Foundation has estimated. As well as the industry's big players, it may also help small gunsmiths and specialists who are currently required to pay an annual federal fee to export relatively minor amounts of products. (Reporting by Mike Stone; editing by Jonathan Oatis)