The Government Wants You to Get Its Permission Before Discussing Gunmaking Information on the Internet (or Anywhere)

ITAR wants to codify awful practices 3D printed gun guru Cody Wilson is suing them over.


The NRA notes with alarm last week something that, if it were paying attention, it would realize is not a fear on the horizon but a nightmare certain people are already living:

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 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)…

Also regulated under ITAR are so-called "technical data" about defense articles. These include, among other things, "detailed design, development, production or manufacturing information" about firearms or ammunition. Specific examples of technical data are blueprints, drawings, photographs, plans, instructions or documentation…

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.

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.

Some alarming language from the proposed regs:

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.

As readers of Reason know well, Cody Wilson is living proof the government has already been acting on the belief they have this power to prevent certain technical details about gun making from spreading to the Internet without their approval—in Wilson's case, CAD files to for a 3D printed plastic handgun. And they've already been sued for it by Wilson.

Wilson this morning tells me that in making this regulatory move public, it's almost like the people he's suing are begging for an injunction to stop them. The proposed regulation is even signed by one of the same people Wilson is suing, C. Edward Peartree, director of the Office of Defense Trade Controls Policy. (One might argue that this is a person being sued in some sense backtracking to cover his own legal ass by stating that the seemingly objectionable actions he's being sued over are settled lawful regulations, though I don't know if a court would agree with that argument one way or the other.)

The State Department, Wilson says, could have gone to the next hearing on his case on July 6 "and say we are changing the rule, we will address [Wilson's complaints about the 1st, 2nd, and 5th amendment issues with their censorious practice], moot the case." Instead they are "completely explicit" with these new announced regs, "doubling down" on their supposed power to require government license for certain kinds of speech related to weapons usable for self-defense. 

Wilson says his suit had to try to demonstrate that the government had such a policy for prior approval of speech. Now the government is "saying our policy is literally that there is such a requirement and always has been." Wilson seems to think it might make it easier to get an injunction against the government's threats to him to take down from his servers information related to the home-making of plastic guns via 3D printers. We'll see.

In other 3D-printed gun news, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) this week re-introduced his 2013 go-nowhere bill to essentially ban plastic guns, using recent revelations of how incompetent the TSA is at finding any contraband as a news hook of sorts. Wilson says in response that he feels Israel's move is more like a lame attempt at fundraising than serious legislating. Wilson also argues that these efforts on the part of Israel and his supporters aren't really about plastic or detectability—just about robbing citizens of the power to make their own weapons at all. 

"It's about freezing the state of gun technology in its current mode," Wilson says. "What offends Israel is the discovery that people can more easily create" a weapon at home. "He found a security norm [detectability] to justify the regulation," but, Wilson argues, like the recent attempt to ban green-tip ammo, where they made it about protecting police, that's just scrambling for an excuse the average citizen might find agreeable to disguise an agenda of total control.

"I would love to be able to [confront Israel] again on NPR," Wilson says. What Israel wants to do, says Wilson, is "to disable the ability to create things for yourself, to make it more expensive, to freeze how guns are made so that [getting one] always requires paying a specialist manufacturer with expensive capital" instead of being able to DIY.

Reason TV did a feature last year on Wilson's subversive activities: