New government rules requiring permission from the feds to post information about firearms and ammunition could put gun writers in legal jeopardy and keep consumers in the dark on new designs, gun rights advocates are warning.
The U.S. Department of State is trying to strengthen the rules governing the export of information on arms and ammunition as part of its regulation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and could force gun writers and bloggers to face up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines if their stories aren’t approved by government regulators, the National Rifle Association warns.
“With the new proposal … the State Department claims to be ‘clarifying’ the rules concerning ‘technical data’ posted online or otherwise ‘released’ into the ‘public domain,’ ” the NRA says. “To the contrary, however, the proposal would institute a massive new prior restraint on free speech.”
The rule change published June 3 could take effect in August and violators could face hefty fines and jail time, the NRA says.
But one industry insider cautions that the language applies mostly to manufacturers. According to the text of the revised rule, the State Department is asking holders of technical information on firearms or ammunition to “seek and receive a license or other authorization from the Department or other cognizant U.S. government authority to release ITAR controlled ‘technical data’. 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,” the rules say.
Gun writers, bloggers and content producers wouldn’t get the specs of a firearm or other item covered by ITAR without the manufacturer first getting approval from the feds to release the information anyway, the industry source said, something all firearms manufacturers already do. The source cautioned, however, that his company’s compliance officer is likely looking into the language to see how it would affect his company.
That hasn’t stopped some industry experts from rallying supporters to fight the revised rules.
“A journalist should not have to seek explicit written permission to publish information that by right should freely be available in the public domain,” said Dr. Martin Topper, a well-regarded firearms expert and writer. “It redefines technical data so broadly, that one would not be able to say anything about firearms, ammunition or related information without explicit Federal permission and would require impossible assurances on the part of a journalist to control who reads his or her material.”