Speech and Guns: Freedom is indivisible

XP002By Kamenev (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago libertarian novelist and essayist L. Neil Smith wrote a prescient piece on victim disarmament (called, by its supporters, “gun control”). Smith is a prescient guy — he also predicted, among other things, the digital watch and the fall of the Soviet Union. I can’t find the piece at the moment, so I’ll paraphrase:

It’s impossible to effectually outlaw guns without also outlawing writing, speaking and thinking about guns. And it’s impossible to effectually outlaw writing, speaking and thinking about guns without outlawing writing, speaking and thinking, period.

Thinking isn’t a strong suit among victim disarmament advocates, but I guess one of them read the article. A couple of years ago, the US State Department ordered Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed to remove 3D printing files for the “Liberator” pistol from the Internet, pending a ruling on whether the posting of those plans constituted an illegal “weapons export.” In early June, the US State Department filed a new rule proposal on the Federal Register.

The rule is in a combination of bureaucratese and technical jargon, but it boils down to the US government requiring anyone who wants to publish “technical data” on the Internet (where it can be downloaded by foreigners, making it an “export”), relating to how to build weapons, to get the State Department’s permission.

We’ve been around this tree before. Back in the 1990s, the government went after proponents of “strong crypto” for making their software available globally, treating cryptographic algorithms as “munitions” for “export” purposes. Hilarity ensued as cypherpunks arrived at airports wearing t-shirts with the following three lines of Perl on them:

#!/bin/perl -sp0777i<X+d*lMLa^*lN%0]dsXx++lMlN/dsM0<j]dsj
$/=unpack(‘H*’,$_);$_=`echo 16dio\U$k”SK$/SM$n\EsN0p[lN*1

Those three lines of code implemented the RSA cryptographic algorithm. Which meant that flying abroad wearing the t-shirt constituted “unauthorized export of a munition.”

The government ended up backing away from that battle. As a result, all of us now have relatively easy access to tools that help us protect the privacy of our information. Now they’re back, trying to throttle free speech in the name of “arms proliferation control” abroad and, implicitly, “gun control” here at home.

The right to think, speak and publish as we please is inseparably linked — both morally and practically — to the right to keep and bear arms. It’s impossible to support one without supporting the other. And as we can see, the State Department now intends to destroy the latter by destroying the former.

The required “comment period” runs through August 3rd. You can read the proposal and register your opposition to it at:


If legal opposition doesn’t work, the necessary next step is open defiance. This is not a battle Americans can afford to lose.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.