How To Shut Down Digital Speech

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posted on June 11, 2015
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If you’re tuned into the news—the real news, not the cable television variety—you’ve been hearing rumblings about the Obama administration’s gun-control initiative for a few days now. The NRA Institute for Legislative Action has made available an excellent primer on different aspects of the so-called “Unified Agenda,” useful for separating truth from rumors. But as our understanding of the administration’s mounting attack on gun rights becomes clearer, the most troubling aspect of the Unified Agenda just might be the quiet rewriting of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)—a bit of bureaucratic sleight of hand profoundly antagonistic to the First and Second Amendments alike.

An entry in the June 3 issue of the Federal Register details proposed changes to ITAR, specifically geared toward “clarifying” how the regulations treat “technical data,” a broad category encompassing illustrations and instructions. (If you don’t want to brave the legalese, refer to this NRA-ILA explanation of the technicalities.) The upshot is that the government is claiming the right to authorize basic technical information about firearms before it goes online—and to punish, with large fines and serious jail time, those who post such information without permission.The upshot is that the government is claiming the right to authorize basic technical information about firearms before it goes online—and to punish, with large fines and serious jail time, those who post such information without permission.

Censoring information by targeting it after it has been published is one thing. But the Obama administration wants to authorize technical data beforehand—in other words, to exercise prior restraint. Judge Andrew Napolitano confirmed in a Fox Business appearance that prior restraint is unambiguously what is described in the Federal Register (“Varney & Co.,” June 8). Except in extreme cases relating to public safety and national security, the Supreme Court has established an ironclad consensus against this type of censorship. For perspective on just how legally regressive its reintroduction would be, remember that John Milton wrote his definitive assault on prior restraint in 1644, well over a century before the United States even existed.

It is difficult to imagine what sort of gun owner would not be affected by the proposed rewriting of ITAR. Do you go to YouTube for tips on customizing your AR? Browse for schematics and instructions on DIY websites? Visit public forums or social media groups to discuss modification, maintenance and reloading? Get ready to give up all of that. It’s government property now. Telling someone how to replace a firing pin spring could land you in boiling hot water.

There’s no telling how strictly the government would intend to enforce the new regulations, but all of the power it needs for this nightmare scenario is right there in that Federal Register entry. It might run afoul of judicial review at some point, but when has that ever stopped this administration from trying?

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