Is this the end of TFB?

    The State Department is considering expanding rules to prevent US manufacturers, or US citizens, from publishing unclassified technical information relating to the manufacture of any weapons, including firearms and ammunition. If the information is distributed in anyway that a non-citizen could access it (which essentially means any transmission of the information to the general public even if the information never leaves the USA) it would need to be first cleared first by the State Department. Publishing includes, but not limited to, blog posts, posting comments on blogs, gun forums, in books, on DVDs and on Youtube.

    This could spell the end of TFB, other non-political guns blogs, reduce the type of content gun magazines would publish, prevent the publication of books on gunsmithing and make your favorite gun forum resemble a police state where moderators censor any vague mention of manufacturing. No manufacturer would be willing to talk to us (or any other publication) about how their products are made. At best they would tell us the basic specifications.

    Here are some extracts from the June 3 issue of the Federal Register, which I have read in full …

     Any information that
    meets this definition is ‘‘public
    domain.’’ The definition also retains an
    exemplary list of information that has
    been made available to the public
    without restriction and would be
    considered ‘‘public domain.’’ These
    include magazines, periodicals and
    other publications available as
    subscriptions, publications contained in
    libraries, information made available at
    a public conference, meeting, seminar,
    trade show, or exhibition, and
    information posted on public Web sites.

    Paragraph (b) of the revised definition
    explicitly sets forth the Department’s
    requirement of authorization to release
    information into the ‘‘public domain.’’
    Prior to making available ‘‘technical
    data’’ or software subject to the ITAR,
    the U.S. government must approve the

    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,’’

    So what is “Technical Data”

    . . . [O]nly that portion of [technical data]
    that is peculiarly responsible for achieving or
    exceeding the controlled performance levels,
    characteristics, or functions.

    …. ‘‘technical data’’ is now
    defined, in part, as information
    ‘‘required’’ for the ‘‘development’’ or
    ‘‘production’’ of a ‘‘defense article, …

    In other words, the color of your gun and the fact that it is made out of polymer is not technical data, but the barrel length, barrel rifling, and the type of polymer used would be considered technical data. Tutorials on making your own guns would definitely be banned. They go onto say …

    The Department does not believe this
    rulemaking will have an annual effect
    on the economy of $100,000,000 or
    more, nor will it result in a major
    increase in costs or prices for
    consumers, individual industries,
    federal, state, or local government
    agencies, or geographic regions, or have
    significant adverse effects on
    competition, employment, investment,
    productivity, innovation, or on the
    ability of United States-based
    enterprises to compete with foreignbased
    enterprises in domestic and
    foreign markets.

    They are wrong, it will affect my employment, the employment of all the TFB staff and employment throughout the online and offline gun publishing industry.

    This is what the NRA-IL has to say about this issue …

    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.

    To understand the proposal and why it’s so serious, some background information is necessary.

    For the past several years, 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). The Act regulates the movement of so-called “defense articles” and “defense services” in and out of the United States. These articles and services are enumerated in a multi-part “U.S. Munitions List,” which covers everything from firearms and ammunition (and related accessories) to strategic bombers. The transnational movement of any defense article or service on the Munitions List presumptively requires a license from the State Department. Producers of such articles and services, moreover, must register with the U.S. Government and pay a hefty fee for doing so.

    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.

    The ITAR, however, were originally promulgated in the days before the Internet. 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.

    Gunsmiths, manufacturers, reloaders, and do-it-yourselfers could all find themselves muzzled under the rule and unable to distribute or obtain the information they rely on to conduct these activities. Prior restraints of the sort contemplated by this regulation are among the most disfavored regulations of speech under First Amendment case law.

    But then, when did the U.S. Constitution ever deter Barack Obama from using whatever means are at his disposal to exert his will over the American people and suppress firearm ownership throughout the nation?

    Time is of the essence! Public comment will be accepted on the proposed gag order until August 3, 2015. Comments may be submitted online at or via e-mail at [email protected] with the subject line, ‘‘ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage.”

    Finally, please contact your U.S. Senators and Member of Congress. Urge them to oppose the State Department’s attempt to censor online speech concerning the technical aspects of firearms and ammunition. Use the “Write Your Lawmakers” feature on our website or call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 225-3121.

    TFB will be making a submission. Over the next couple of weeks I will be talking to fellow editors on how best to proceed.

    Is this how TFB ends? With no fanfare, just one man’s signature on an unconstitutional document?

    Steve Johnson

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!