The case of Defense Distributed v. U.S. Dep’t of State, C15-0372RP (W.D. Tex), recently ruled on by the Honorable Judge Robert Pitman, has created a furor over the last several days, but very little of the headlines are accurate. At best they, like this headline, are disgracefully disingenuous.
Gay Obama Appointee Legalizes Plastic Guns!
This particular topic is but one of many that reflect the sort of hyperbole and polarizing, partisan-based sensationalism that prevents any sort of civil discourse on virtually any matter of domestic policy. It’s an excellent example of the yellow journalism that so frequently exploits something factually correct, but in a way that is sufficiently misleading as to effectively false. In other words, counterintuitive as it might seem, an accurate statement is not always true.
Take the example of this article’s headline. In the broadest interpretation, it is an accurate statement. Judge Pitman is an Obama appointee, and he is gay. Functionally, however, it is a complete misrepresentation and thus untrue. Neither of those things has anything to do with the issue being discussed.
It is a gross distortion of facts intended to mislead the reader.
It uses terminology and punctuation to elicit a specific, desired response.
It impedes or even completely prevents honest or factual discussion.
And it is by far the most common sort of statement or headline we now see.
Judge Pitman ruled against the request by Everytown for Gun Safety, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence for an intervention to prevent Defense Distributed from posting CAD drawings and blueprints online. These and other gun control groups’ actions were brought about by a settlement between a Mike Pompeo-led State Department with Defense Distributed. This previous lawsuit was filed by Defense Distributed several years ago against the then-John Kerry led State Department. The Department of State’s stance at that time was that such making such drawing and blueprints online were a possible ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation) violation IAW the Arms Export Control Act.
Judge Pitman, who was appointed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and is openly gay, said he would fully explain his decision in a written statement to follow (that statement, Case 1:15-cv-00372-RP Document 111 Filed 07/27/18, is now available on Scribd). Judge Pitman said that while he was sympathetic to gun control concerns, he questioned their legal weight; thus the State Department settlement, made on First and not Second Amendment grounds, was left intact.
That’s how we can contrive a headline like Gay Obama appointee makes the sale of plastic guns legal!While an accurate statement, it’s an appalling misrepresentation of what really occurred. It no more deserves the gay Obama appointee angle that it does Trump administration legalizes untraceable guns!
Yet that is exactly what some pundits imply and in some places declaim — that somehow Judge Pitman is a Trump Administration stooge.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman is a former Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. According to the Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News, and other sources including the Rainbow Times, he is openly gay. In 2011 he was nominated to the office of US Attorney for the Western District of Texas by President Obama. Three years later President Obama successfully nominated him to serve as a United States District Judge.
Pitman is not acting on behalf of President Trump to somehow imperil everyone in America with plastic weapons of mass destruction. One can only assume that assertions otherwise stem from a desire to sensationalize in order to elicit a visceral response or to distract “the masses” that leads to such assertions. It could also be ignorance or stupidity.
It is not only Judge Pitman’s ruling that has been attacked. Similar disingenuous statements, in fact in far greater number, have been made regarding the State Department’s settlement of the case prior to Judge Pitman’s involvement.
That decision has been similarly warped, with headlines like “Trump Administration Legalizes Ghost Guns” appearing all over the media. Very rarely in all those posts and stories will you find a reference to the causative factor for the ruling, which was reported to be a advice from the Department of Justice that the State Department and U.S. government settle the case, a case they would “likely have lost in court”, making it a domestic gun control issue better suited for Congress and law enforcement officials (emphasis added). Nor do we see much to address an explanation by the State Department advising that a “lengthy review process” had determined the plans not to be an ITAR violation
Now, one could conceivably make a cogent argument that Secretary of State Pompeo — indisputably a member of the Trump Administration — is responsible for legalizing “undetectable” guns, but that is not the approach most publications, platforms, and pundits have taken. In any event, it strains credulity to believe he was directly involved, although as the as the chief of that agency he ultimately bears responsibility for whatever it does.
The idea of undetectable guns and the difference between 3D printing and CNC milling is something we’ll address another time, it’s a whole other example of willful obfuscation.
Then there is President Trump himself, who actually seems to support a ban on blueprints and plans.
That tweet could mean a lot or nothing. Taken in context of the State Department’s reported ITAR findings, the reported transition of purview from Dept. of State over to the Dept. of Commerce, and Judge Pitman’s actual background and statements, it becomes very difficult indeed to support any claim that Judge Pitman and/or the State Department is someone conspiring with the Trump Administration to enable mass slaughter by dint of “easily printed plastic guns.”
Now, to be fair, the NRA’s response to all this was at best lackluster. The Executive Director of their Institute for Legislative Action issued a statement that said, in part, “Regardless of what a person may be able to publish on the Internet, undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years.”
Well yes, no shit, but the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 doesn’t directly address the concerns of at least some of the people opposed to the availability of such plan online — many of whom are sincerely doing what they believe to be the right thing. That sort of canned, anemic response isn’t going to persuade anyone, particularly coming from an organization as reviled by the Left as the NRA, though it’s nowhere near as egregious as Nancy Pelosi’s statement that the move to allow 3D-printable guns was a “sickening NRA giveaway.” (Perhaps she is unaware of the difference between the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation, or maybe she’s just so used to saying NRA! that she can’t help it.)
The bottom line here is facts matter. If we are going to debate this or any other issue, we need to do so in the context of what is really happening. It can’t be an excuse to just start monkey-flinging partisan poop, but that’s all that many people seem to want to do. Senators Andrew Cuomo and Richard Blumenthal, along with Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, are prime examples of this.
Ms. Gardiner recently said she was “…shocked and disappointed that the Trump administration would make a secret backroom deal with very little notice.”
A secret backroom deal? Wait, what?
Sen. Blumthenal said, “It’s his [President Trump’s] doing, it’s his responsibility and the blood is going to be on his hands.”
It is possible, perhaps, that POTUS directed Secretary Pompeo to settle the lawsuit, but how likely is that? And even if he did, are we also to assume Judge Pitman was a co-conspirator? Perhaps the Democratic Senator from Connecticut doesn’t understand how the law works. Maybe he just jumped on a chance to bash a President from the other party. Could be both.
Regardless, he’s not the only one engaging in such fuckery, on both sides of the aisle, on a far-ranging list of issues.
Politicians, no less than scientists, journalists, and other, should draw conclusions and make statements based on facts. They have an ethical obligation to attempt to understand the totality of the circumstances of an event or issue to the best of their ability (if not a legal one).
If we cannot set aside sensationalism, hyperbole, and easy shots at the “other side”, we’ll never accomplish what we need to.
Follow me on Instagram if you’d like, though to be honest I’m not sure why you’d want to: @reederwrites.
If you would like to watch footage of the discussion following Judge Pitman’s nomination, it is available on the United States Senate Committee Channel (Committee on the Judiciary, in this instance) right here.