Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

Freedom Advocates, Pro-Gun Senators Unite to Oppose the Obama Administration’s Attempt to Censor Information about Firearms Technology

Friday, August 7, 2015

Freedom Advocates, Pro-Gun Senators Unite to Oppose the Obama Administration’s Attempt to Censor Information about Firearms Technology

Freedom Advocates, Pro-Gun Senators Unite to Oppose the Obama Administration’s Attempt to Censor Information about Firearms Technology

As we reported in June, the Obama Administration’s State Department (DOS) proposed a revision of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) on June 3 that would require anyone seeking to make certain types of information about firearms publicly available to first obtain government approval. Prior restraints of the sort contemplated by the proposal are among the most disfavored regulations of speech under First Amendment case law. Our original alert encouraged gunsmiths, manufacturers, reloaders, serious hobbyists, and others who rely on design, development, production or manufacturing information about firearms to file comments with the State Department opposing the rule and explaining its problems.

The response was overwhelming. By the time the comment period ended on Monday, nearly 10,000 comments had been posted to the Regulations.gov website, the vast majority of them adamantly opposed to the law. A DOS official put the actual number of comments (which can also be submitted by other means) at some 12,000. Those opposing the rule include police officers, engineers, research universities, scholastic rifle teams, defense contractors, gunsmiths, firearm instructors, professors, IT professionals, and thousands of gun owners who enjoy fabricating or working on firearms for their lawful personal use. Their input illustrates not only the proposal’s restraints on free speech but the numerous practical problems it would pose for a variety of professionals, students, researchers, and other law-abiding Americans. 

NRA’s own comments were submitted on Monday. The comments begin by emphasizing that the larger Export Control Reform effort of which the June 3 proposal is a part has always intended to move firearms off ITAR’s list of controlled items (the U.S. Munitions List) to a list subject to more flexible controls administered by the Commerce Department.  The whole point of having dual systems of control is to recognize that especially sensitive or sophisticated military technology (like that used in nuclear subs or ballistic missiles) requires a different level of regulation than items like firearms that have both military and civilian applications. Yet the Obama Administration, solely for political reasons, continues to treat the same sorts of firearms that some 100 million Americans (and countless foreigners) already have in their homes as if they are as militarily sensitive and consequential as aircraft carriers or strategic bombers.  

Our comments also note that a proposed definition of “defense service” is so far-reaching that it could hinder efforts by NRA and NRA certified instructors to provide firearm education and safety training within the U.S. Under the proposal, a foreign person lawfully present in the U.S. could not participate even in “basic” operational training with a firearm unless the person had been approved to receive that firearm as an export in another country. This means, for example, that a foreign exchange student living with an American host family could not lawfully obtain the necessary training to safely use and handle a borrowed bolt action rifle to accompany the family on a deer hunt. Obviously, this is too restrictive and does nothing to further America’s national security.

The bulk of NRA’s comments, however, are devoted to explaining how the proposal would impose an unconstitutional prior restraint on firearm-related speech protected by the First Amendment.  We also expose DOS’s falsehood that the proposed requirement for “preauthorization” to discuss technical aspects of firearms and ammunition is merely a “more explicit statement” of current practice and policy. The comments quote extensively from case law and Department of Justice memorandums dating back to the 1970s which warn DOS that it cannot constitutionally impose a broad requirement that Americans first obtain government approval before speaking publicly about unclassified military technology.  We also show how DOS, under prior administrations, removed a similar preauthorization requirement in response to these concerns. “Not only is the preauthorization requirement a radical departure from DOS practice as it existed immediately prior to the proposal’s publication date,” our comments state, “it is a return to policy DOS had abandoned in the 1980s as incompatible with the First Amendment.”

Finally, our comments expose how another supposed clarification is actually a massive power grab by DOS, with the proposal’s insistence that speech published online must be treated as an “export,” because of its presumed availability to foreign persons. Not only is DOS’ attempt to seize control of Internet content futile from a practical standpoint, it was never authorized by the Congress that original passed ITAR’s enabling legislation, the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). The Internet had yet to be developed at the time of the AECA’s passage, so it authors could hardly have appointed DOS the government’s official Internet censor. More to the point, even if they had tried, the First Amendment would have stopped them.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), the media has been surprisingly silent on the government’s attempt to censor speech about constitutionally-protected firearms owned by millions of Americans. NRA’s comments quote statements from a press conference in which a DOS official sets up a strawman by insisting the proposal would not ban “general descriptions” or “imagery” of firearms. What the official fails to mention, however, is that more detailed information about firearm technology would be seriously curtailed. Worse, because the proposal is so awkwardly and confusingly drafted, even unregulated speech would likely be chilled because of the inability of individuals and media outlets (like Internet service providers) to determine when the regulatory line was crossed. Is the mass media so hypocritical that it’s willing to sacrifice a whole category of legitimate, constitutionally-protected speech, simply because it supports a gun culture the media detests? So far, that seems to be the case.

Fortunately, pro-gun representatives in the Senate have been more conscientious in protecting the public trust on this issue.  Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) led an effort that resulted in a 28 senators signing on to a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, opposing the June 3 proposal. According to the letter, “certain definitions within the proposal are so broad as to capture actions essential to the exercise of a citizen’s Second Amendment rights.” It goes on to state that the new definitions could capture “information such as how to legally modify or assemble a generally available firearm, such as a hunting rifle or self-defense handgun, or information on the development of new loading information for existing firearm ammunition.” “These types of activities,” the letter warns, “are part and parcel of how many Americans exercise their Second Amendment rights.” The signatories accordingly “urge the State Department to modify or delay these misguided changes to the ITAR in order to ensure they do not violate the First and Second Amendments or until commonly owned firearms and ammunition are not adversely impacted.”

Once again, America’s gun owners, and their elected officials, with the backing and support of your NRA, have risen to the challenge of opposing an attempt from the Obama Administration to use executive authority to limit Second Amendment rights. Whether the proposal will be enacted as written, in a modified form, or will be scrapped, remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, DOS has received a clear message that America’s gun owners will not stand by to let either their First or Second Amendment rights be trampled. 

TRENDING NOW
“Unity” President Vows to “Defeat” America’s Oldest and Largest Civil Rights Group

News  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

“Unity” President Vows to “Defeat” America’s Oldest and Largest Civil Rights Group

Biden issued this “pledge” in a January 8 tweet that falsely tried to suggest the men and women of the NRA were somehow implicated in an infamous crime that was committed a decade ago by ...

Florida Alert! Gun Bills Filed in Florida - SO FAR

Friday, January 15, 2021

Florida Alert! Gun Bills Filed in Florida - SO FAR

As Legislators begin to file bills for the 2021 Florida Legislative Session, we are getting questions about various bills due to media reports on gun bills.  Below is a partial list of bills we will ...

Double-Standard: Virginia Eliminates Online Carry Courses While Promoting Distancing for Everything Else

News  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Double-Standard: Virginia Eliminates Online Carry Courses While Promoting Distancing for Everything Else

As part of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly’s sweeping attack on gun rights in 2020, anti-gun lawmakers enacted legislation that made it more difficult for gun owners to obtain the required training ...

OCC Finalizes Non-Discrimination Rule

News  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

OCC Finalizes Non-Discrimination Rule

On January 14, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) finalized an NRA-supported rule to end politically-motivated discrimination in the provision of financial services. The new regulation is now set to take effect on April ...

ATF Withdraws Pistol Brace “Guidance”

News  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

ATF Withdraws Pistol Brace “Guidance”

On December 23rd, ATF posted a document to its website indicating that its recently published Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with “Stabilizing Braces” is withdrawn.

NRA Dumps New York to Reincorporate in Texas, Announces New Strategic Plan

News  

Friday, January 15, 2021

NRA Dumps New York to Reincorporate in Texas, Announces New Strategic Plan

Today, the NRA announced a restructuring plan that positions us for the long-term and ensures our continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom – free from the toxic political environment of New ...

Record Amount of Gun Control Legislation Introduced on First Day of Bill Pre-Filing for 2021 Texas Legislative Session

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Record Amount of Gun Control Legislation Introduced on First Day of Bill Pre-Filing for 2021 Texas Legislative Session

Although the 2021 session of the Texas Legislature convenes on January 12, gun control advocates financed by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg and Beto "Hell Yeah, I'll Take Your Guns" O'Rourke wasted no time in announcing their ...

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

Gun Laws  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

CAUTION: Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change. This summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law.

Biden to Nominate Anti-Second Amendment Judge Merrick Garland for Attorney General

News  

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Biden to Nominate Anti-Second Amendment Judge Merrick Garland for Attorney General

President-elect Joe Biden announced he will nominate U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Judge Merrick Garland for Attorney General. Biden’s choice of a noted Second Amendment opponent to lead the Department ...

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Want to Destroy the Second Amendment

News  

Monday, November 2, 2020

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Want to Destroy the Second Amendment

While discussion of the Second Amendment and gun control have been noticeably absent from the presidential debates and mainstream media coverage, gun rights are without a doubt on the ballot tomorrow.

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -

More Like This From Around The NRA

NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.