Wired News: Shooting the Messengers? by Declan McCullagh

Matthew Gaylor (freematt@coil.com)
Thu, 14 Oct 1999 13:22:24 -0400

[Note from Matt Gaylor: I supplied the raffle example to Declan McCullagh (Bureau chief Wired News, Washington) and you can read my comments in the article. I was interview by phone 10-13-99. Call your representatives now to stop this bill.]


Shooting the Messengers?
by Declan McCullagh

3:00 a.m. 14.Oct.99.PDT
WASHINGTON - When a group of Montana parents needed to raise money to pay for their children's athletic programs this week, they decided to rafūe off a Ruger riūe. In a message sent to local mailing lists, they announced,
"The Missoula County Home School Athletic Association is sponsoring a Ruger
M77 30-06 with a walnut stock and a 3x9 Tasco."

Such a posting could send the parents straight to prison unless their notice complied with Internet advertising restrictions added to the Senate version of the Juvenile Justice bill, according to some Second Amendment advocates.

House and Senate committee staff are meeting this week to resolve the different versions of the crime bill, said a spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary committee. "They're trying to get agreements on things. We're getting closer."

"Basically, you will go to prison for one year for attempting to sell a
Ūrearm over the Internet if your email is pulled down by anyone under 18 or any 'prohibited person,'" says Mike Hammond, a consultant to Gun Owners of America and a former general counsel to the US Senate steering committee.

The provision would require anyone trying to sell a Ūrearm online to add a prominent disclaimer to a Web, email, or Usenet advertisement or risk up to one year in prison and a hefty Ūne, according to Hammond.

The Senate amendment passed 73-25 in May strongly encourages online gun advertisements to be accompanied by the notice that the transactions "will be made in accord with federal, state and local law." Anyone who notes the sale is not open to minors or convicted felons will be immune from prosecution and conviction.

But it's not clear whether the no-sale notice is voluntary or mandatory.

Michael Krauss, a professor of law at George Mason University, says the notice is strongly encouraged but not required. "I think it would be an infraction if you explicitly advertised to a minor or felon. But if you merely advertised a Ūrearm for sale, I don't think you'll be in trouble under this bill," Krauss said.

"In my opinion, there's a successful defense [against prosecution and
conviction] even if you don't have the boilerplate they ardently hope you would add and you merely are silent about it."

Krauss said some states already require such exchanges to go through gun stores.

But Gun Owners and other activists say federal restrictions on individual Ūrearms sales go too far.

"It'll be another way for the [Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms] to
arrest otherwise law abiding citizens for a law that won't accomplish much of anything," said Matt Gaylor, a Second Amendment activist who runs the FreeMatt mailing list.

"Let's say you put a note up and someone forwarded it, but in the process
of forwarding it they cut off the notice and it gets forwarded to some other forum," Gaylor said. "Each person that sends that message is committing a federal felony."

Gun Owners is planning to distribute an alert that says: "Section 1563 of the SENATE POSITION, which is expected to be incorporated into the Ūnal version, would impose a one-year prison sentence for anyone advertising a Ūrearm over the Internet, if his e-mail was RECEIVED by a child or prohibited person. The Internet user could avoid this prison sentence only by including a complex and highly speciŪc set of legal disclosures in his e-mail."

It's unclear when the House and Senate conferees will Ūnish negotiations over the bill, but it seems likely that the Internet advertising restrictions will stay in the Ūnal measure.

They were part of the original Senate crime bill introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who now chairs the conference committee.

The bill also orders the death penalty for anyone who "in the course of an offense under this section, engages in conduct that results in the death of a juvenile."

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