This restriction – which the State Department claims is meant to limit “international traffic in arms” – could affect hobbyists, gunsmiths, bloggers and potentially anyone who talks about guns on the Internet, threatening them with severe penalties including fines of up to $1 million and up to 20 years in prison.
The proposal involves a broad re-interpretation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), rules intended to prevent foreigners and enemies of America from obtaining sensitive information about American weapons technology.
While ITAR are generally intended to stop people from doing things like sending submarine blueprints to the Russians, the new proposal means they could be applied to anyone who shares or discusses technical information about weapons on the Internet.
The specific language in question is pretty vague and complex, so I’ll leave it to the National Review to explain:
“At present, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) dictate that any weapons-related ‘technical data’ that is in the ‘public domain’ can be published and discussed with impunity. This arrangement, State submits, was all very well when ‘public domain’ meant ‘in a library,’ but it is simply not good enough in the era of Twitter and WordPress. (Clearly, it would be self-defeating if the rules intended to prevent foreigners from reading the technical data for the F-35 became impotent the moment that that information found its way online.) In principle at least, Foggy Bottom has a point: In a rapidly changing world, regulations do indeed to need to be updated. And yet the manner in which the proposed alterations have been constructed is alarming indeed. Essentially, the State Department now wants to ensure that any new information that is subject to ITAR be approved by the government prior to release online. ‘If you’ve talked about a given piece of information before,’ the agency is saying, ‘you can talk about it again. But if you haven’t, you’ll need to ask our permission first.’”As the NRA wrote last week, this means that “gunsmiths, manufacturers, re-loaders, 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 provisions could also be used to outlaw “detailed reviews of new firearms, in-depth technical discussions involving recently patented parts, amateur repair- and upgrade-manuals, 3D-printing schematics, and even self-defense programs,” according to the National Review.
Whether or not the Obama Administration intends to use the proposed rules this way remains to be seen. But given the administration’s history on gun rights, gun owners are right to be a little nervous.