Is the State Department Trying to Censor Gun Speech?

Law Shield wants to advise our members that NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action is warning gun owners that NRA-ILA believes the Department of State is moving to censor online technical speech related to firearms— including forums, videos, and blogs.

A new State Department proposal in Vol. 80 No. 106 of the Federal Register would give the department oversight over releases of “technical data” about defense articles, including, “detailed design, development, production or manufacturing information” about firearms or ammunition. Specific examples of technical data are blueprints, drawings, photographs, plans, instructions or documentation.

In the June 3 issue of the Federal Register, the State Department claims to be “clarifying” the language for International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The ITAR 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.

An NRA-ILA statement explained, “For the past several years, the Administration has been pursuing a large-scale overhaul of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which implement the federal Arms Export Control Act (AECA). The Act regulates the movement of so-called ‘defense articles’ and ‘defense services’ in and out of the United States. These articles and services are enumerated in a multi-part ‘U.S. Munitions List,’ which covers everything from firearms and ammunition (and related accessories) to strategic bombers.

“The transnational movement of any defense article or service on the Munitions List presumptively requires a license from the State Department. Producers of such articles and services, moreover, must register with the U.S. Government and pay a hefty fee for doing so,” the NRA-ILA statement said.

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.

Penalties for violations are severe and for each violation could include up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Civil penalties can also be assessed. Each unauthorized “export,” including to subsequent countries or foreign nationals, is also treated as a separate violation.

Public comment will be accepted on the proposed gag order until August 3, 2015. Comments may be submitted online at regulations.gov or via e-mail at DDTCPublicComments@state.gov with the subject line, “ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage.”

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