Recently, a guy in Texas spent his time designing and testing a simple pistol that could be manufactured by anyone using a 3D printer, and posted the design on the Internet. Within days, the US Department of State contacted him to pull the files down, on the grounds that they violated international arms controls laws regarding exporting munitions.
The US Government has tried this before, in the early ’90’s, with Phil Zimmerman and the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) public key encryption software he wrote using the RSA algorithms, in response to reports that Congress was considering legislation to require that any encryption software sold in the US have a backdoor that the government could access. Phil Zimmerman included notes with the software that there were potential legal issues with exporting the software from the United States because strong encryption software was classified as a “munition” and governed under the Munitions Control Act of 1954, commonly known as ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations, but it was posted on the Internet and exported outside the US by unknown persons. The US Government investigated him for several years over whether he violated ITAR because the software was published online. An interesting note is that the PGP software could be exported in PRINTED form, including in a form allowing for easy scanning and optical character recognition (OCR), but not in usable software form, so the printed source code, and even t-shirts implementing PGP in Perl could legally be exported.
An interesting twist, and one that impacts me and my friends, is that the National Rifle Assocation (NRA) has recently sent out an email to at least some NRA trainers stating that the US government was giving them unclear guidance as to whether providing firearm’s safety training to foreigners was in violation of ITAR, and as a result, they were not accepting foreign students to NRA Instructor or Chief Range Safety Officer training courses, and advised other trainers to consult with a lawyer familiar with ITAR if they intended to teach classes with foreign students.
To my mind, these restrictions represent clear violations of the First and Second Amendments. It’s legal for a foreigner legally present in the US to fire a firearm, and even in some cases to purchase one, but it’s illegal to teach him how to do so?
Of course, with the defeat of attempts to capitalize on the deaths of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama made it clear that he would take action using the regulatory powers available to him, I find it very disconcerting that only a few months later we encounter these restrictions, at the same time as the IRS admits that it was imposing additional burdens on conservative groups applying for 501(c)4 status, and while the evidence is unfolding about how the Obama Administration flat-out lied to the American people and Congress about the events in Benghazi, Libya, that included the deaths of our ambassador and three other Americans, blaming them on a poorly-done video insulting Islam that nobody had heard of, and deleting references to terrorists and Al Queda. Only a few days ago, President Obama, in a college commencement speech, was claiming that anyone who tells you there is reason to fear government tyranny is lying. I think the accumulated evidence is clear on who is lying, and a government that lies to it’s people and actively tries to subvert their rights meets the definition of tyranny.