The internet is an amazing place if you’re a gun buff. Anything you want to know is at your fingertips. From ballistic tables and tolerances to opinion on the grip shape. Unfortunately, a new proposal may criminalize a favorite past time for millions of Americans.
In a column for the Washington Times, Joel Stonedale, an attorney in the Center for the American Future at Texas Public Policy Foundation, highlighted a proposed expansion to the International Trafficking in Arms Regulation (ITAR), which would define the posting of certain technical data about arms on the internet as “exporting military technology—even if the technology is not military.” According to Stonedale, such information “need only be required for the ‘development’ or ‘operation’ of anything on the ‘Munitions List,’” an expansive array of technologies from small arms and electronic gear, to tanks and naval crafts:
“Perhaps most concerning, the Munitions List contains a catchall provision allowing the State Department to impose ITAR control over “any article not enumerated on the U.S. Munitions List.” Read literally, the Munitions List contains every technology on it, and any technology not on it that the State Department feels like regulating. In simpler terms, this could be expressed as “anything the State Department wants to regulate.””
Anyone wishing not to run afoul of this new expansive regulation must apply for a license, if “doubt exists as to whether the information [they seek to disseminate] is covered by ITAR.” Given the expanse of information covered by ITAR, however, this pretty much applies to everyone. Failure to do so risks criminal penalties of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Let’s consider that penalty again: 20 years. One million dollars. All to regulate speech that ten minutes ago was perfectly legal.
Just at the federal level, there are already roughly 4,500 statutes that carry criminal penalties. But, there are some 300,000 federal regulations that criminalize various and sundry activities as well, and these are just the ones we know about (at some point, those tasked with tracking these things down just stop counting.)
One question worth asking is whether such a regulation would withstand a court challenge. The specifics seem overly broad and can incorporate almost any discussion of information on firearms. However, would the courts interpret it in such a way?
Perhaps a bigger problem is how such a proposal could easily slip past millions of Americans without anyone knowing any differently.
With all the statutes and regulations, it becomes virtually impossible for a person to know whether or not they’re committing a crime. Since ignorance of the law isn’t considered a valid defense, how are people to walk a straight and narrow line when it’s impossible to know where it’s drawn?