Commonly used and unregulated internet discussions and videos about guns and ammo could be closed down under rules proposed by the State Department, amounting to a "gag order on firearm-related speech," the National Rifle Association is warning.
In updating regulations governing international arms sales, State is demanding that anyone who puts technical details about arms and ammo on the web first get the OK from the federal government — or face a fine of up to $1 million and 20 years in jail.
According to the NRA, that would include blogs and web forums discussing technical details of common guns and ammunition, the type of info gun owners and ammo reloaders trade all the time.
"Gunsmiths, manufacturers, reloaders, and do-it-yourselfers could all find themselves muzzled under the rule and unable to distribute or obtain the information they rely on to conduct these activities," said the NRA in a blog posting.
"This latest regulatory assault, published in the June 3 issue of the Federal Register, is as much an affront to the First Amendment as it is to the Second," warned the NRA's lobbying shop. "Your action is urgently needed to ensure that online blogs, videos, and web forums devoted to the technical aspects of firearms and ammunition do not become subject to prior review by State Department bureaucrats before they can be published," it added.
At issue is the internet. State is updating International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which implement the federal Arms Export Control Act (AECA). The rules govern everything from guns to strategic bombers.
The NRA said that the rules predate the internet, and now the federal government wants to regulate technical arms discussions on on the internationally available web.
State's proposal is highly technical. It took 14 pages in the Federal Register to explain. But the NRA boiled it down for gun owners with this warning:
"In their current form, the ITAR do not (as a rule) regulate technical data that are in what the regulations call the 'public domain.' Essentially, this means data 'which is published and which is generally accessible or available to the public' through a variety of specified means. These include 'at libraries open to the public or from which the public can obtain documents.' Many have read this provision to include material that is posted on publicly available websites, since most public libraries these days make Internet access available to their patrons.
"The ITAR, however, were originally promulgated in the days before the Internet. Some State Department officials now insist that anything published online in a generally-accessible location has essentially been 'exported,' as it would be accessible to foreign nationals both in the U.S. and overseas.
"With the new proposal published on June 3, the State Department claims to be 'clarifying' the rules concerning 'technical data' posted online or otherwise 'released' into the 'public domain.' To the contrary, however, the proposal would institute a massive new prior restraint on free speech. This is because all such releases would require the 'authorization' of the government before they occurred. The cumbersome and time-consuming process of obtaining such authorizations, moreover, would make online communication about certain technical aspects of firearms and ammunition essentially impossible."
Below are the State changes drawing the NRA fire:
Paragraph (b) of the revised definition explicitly sets forth the Department's requirement of authorization to release information into the ''public domain.'' Prior to making available ''technical data'' or software subject to the ITAR, the U.S. government must approve the release through one of the following: (1) The Department; (2) the Department of Defense's Office of Security Review; (3) a relevant U.S. government contracting authority with authority to allow the ''technical data'' or software to be made available to the public, if one exists; or (4) another U.S. government official with authority to allow the ''technical data'' or software to be made available to the public.
The requirements of paragraph (b) are not new. Rather, they are a more explicit statement of the ITAR's requirement that one must seek and receive a license or other authorization from the Department or other cognizant U.S. government authority to release ITAR controlled ''technical data,'' as defined in § 120.10. A release of ''technical data'' may occur by disseminating ''technical data'' at a public conference or trade show, publishing ''technical data'' in a book or journal article, or posting ''technical data'' to the Internet.
This proposed provision will enhance compliance with the ITAR by clarifying that ''technical data'' may not be made available to the public without authorization. Persons who intend to discuss ''technical data'' at a conference or trade show, or to publish it, must ensure that they obtain the appropriate authorization.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.