The NRA is warning that new regulations proposed by the State Department could result in shutting down online gun blogs and forums.
“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,” the NRA warned Friday. The administration’s update of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the NRA says, could effectively result in a “gag order on firearm-related speech”:
Even as news reports have been highlighting the gun control provisions of the Administration’s “Unified Agenda” of regulatory objectives (see accompanying story), the Obama State Department has been quietly moving ahead with a proposal that could censor online speech related to firearms. 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. 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.
The new rules require prior approval for posting technical details about arms and ammunition online, with those who don’t facing a potential $1 million fine and 20 years in prison. The NRA points out that many popular gun owner sites contain forums where users can share information that would now require government approval before posting.
The NRA provides a summary of the potential impact of the changes, which it argues could make “online communication about certain technical aspects of firearms and ammunition essentially impossible”:
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.
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