About that Obama "gag order" on firearm-related speech

There’s been a lot of chatter in our comments section and across the web about a recent story regarding a new presidential executive order dealing with an overhaul of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). It’s being described as a move which could boil down to a gag order on any and all discussion of guns, ammunition and related technology on blogs, in chat rooms or pretty much anywhere else. It’s a story which has been picked up on numerous conservative sites. First of all, yes… I saw it. I get updates from the NRA and NRA-ILA sent straight to my phone just like all the members do. But after going through the background information I didn’t really go into too much of a panic.

First, a bit of background from the aforementioned alert.

It’s happening again— President Obama is using his imperial pen and telephone to curb your rights and bypass Congress through executive action.

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 specific clause in question is rather vague to say the least.

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.

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.

I’ll grant that such regulations, when taken to their illogical extreme, could be interpreted to mean that any and all discussions of an even vaguely technical nature about guns might be considered to fall under this umbrella. And since the “public domain” now includes the internet, rather than just public libraries and newspapers, there is theoretical cause for concern. With that in mind it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the public pushing the administration for clarification of the language and I don’t fault anyone for wanting to get involved in that effort.

But as much as it goes against my nature to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt on anything, I’m really not sure how deep this particular rabbit hole is. The ITAR regulations, while perhaps drawn up in a clumsy and overly broad fashion, seem clearly designed to keep a lid on sensitive technical data for advanced defense equipment. Let’s face it… you’re not supposed to be publishing instructions on how to build a nuclear bomb on your blog, and the same goes for advanced fighter jets, smart bombs and a host of other emerging technologies which we would like to keep from the hands of our enemies for as long as possible. They aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) concerned with how to put together a hunting rifle, reload your own ammunition, or any other technologies which have been widely available around the world since early in the last century.

The second reason why I didn’t fly into a panic over this one is the sense that, even if this actually was the intention of the White House, (and I’m not denying that they would probably like to shut down gun discussions) the odds of success in the courts would have to be essentially nil. Stop and think about it for a moment. If those rules are in place and somebody – let’s say me, for example, since I blog about guns a fair bit – publishes a post which includes instructions on how to break down and store your AR-15 along with an accompanying diagram, what does the government do? They would have to actually come and arrest me and take me into federal court. When the charges were read, the resulting uproar would be deafening. Even were I to be convicted, the case would quickly go to the very top on appeals and the obvious implications over free speech and Second Amendment rights would have it tossed out on its ear. And that failure would be a massive embarrassment for the administration.

I don’t find the current White House crew to be geniuses. But by the same token, I don’t think they’re that stupid. But just in case they are, let’s get this out of the way right now. Here’s how to break down your Mossberg 30-06.

Okay, Loretta Lynch. Come and get me.