On Tuesday, the Free Times in Columbia, South Carolina broke the story of the “You Lie”-inscribed assault rifle parts being sold by Palmetto State Armory to “honor” Congressman Joe Wilson, who shouted that line in his infamous interruption of President Barack Obama’s speech to a Joint Session of Congress in September of 2009. The Free Times article points out the presence of a photograph of Wilson with Armory founder Jamin McCallum on the webpage selling the part, and reports that the photo was taken during an August, 2010 visit by Wilson to the Armory.
In comments on a post I wrote in response to the Free Times story, I noted the presence of a seal in the photograph of Wilson and McCallum and wondered whether it is legal to use such a seal in an advertisement for a product, since it creates the impression of government endorsement. Getting no response to the question, I then found the relevant law (scroll down to section 713).
Looking carefully at the photograph (it is reproduced in my post from Tuesday night, Palmetto State Armory has pulled the webpage for the product), it appears to me that the seal in the photograph is this one that can be found at Wikimedia Commons. Interestingly, the usage info at Wikimedia Commons suggests that this particular seal is unofficial, since the House of Representatives and the Senate each have their own seals:
Description: Unofficial seal of the United States Congress. The Congress as a whole does not have an official seal (rather, the Senate and House have their own seals), but this is still a commonly seen symbol.
Permission: Public domain from a copyright standpoint, but other restrictions may apply. 18 U.S.C. §713 protects the Seal of the United States Congress, but as this is an unofficial seal, it is unclear whether it is protected or not. Other federal regulations probably do provide trademark-like protection.
However, looking carefully at the relevant law, it clearly proscribes commercial usage for this seal and also provides the method of registering a complaint:
Sec. 713. Use of likenesses of the great seal of the United States, the seals of the President and Vice President, the seal of the United States Senate, the seal of the United States House of Representatives, and the seal of the United States Congress
(a) Whoever knowingly displays any printed or other likeness of the great seal of the United States, or of the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, or the seal of the United States Senate, or the seal of the United States House of Representatives, or the seal of the United States Congress, or any facsimile thereof, in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
(f) A violation of the provisions of this section may be enjoined at the suit of the Attorney General,
(1) in the case of the great seal of the United States and the seals of the President and Vice President, upon complaint by any authorized representative of any department or agency of the United States;
(2) in the case of the seal of the United States Senate, upon complaint by the Secretary of the Senate;
(3) in the case of the seal of the United States House of Representatives, upon complaint by the Clerk of the House of Representatives; and
(4) in the case of the seal of the United States Congress, upon complaint by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, acting jointly.
It’s hard to see how the interpretation at Wikimedia Commons is correct. The law clearly lays out the same restrictions against commercial use and sets out the same penalties for the US Congress seal as it does for the House of Representatives seal and Senate seal.
The most likely reason that Palmetto State Armory pulled down the site for selling the You Lie AR-15 lower was the outrage that it is provoking in the wake of the Tucson shooting tragedy. Even without that tragedy, creation of this product was a staggering example of the right wing gun fetish that grips our country and is even linked to it in a very twisted way. Wilson’s intemperate outburst was during Obama’s speech outlining his planned health insurance reforms and came at the moment that Obama stated that under his plan, no taxpayer money would go to support health care for illegal aliens. Note that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords became a target for those stirred to violence by actions like Wilson’s after the health care bill passed, with her office being vandalized and that Judge John M. Roll also faced death threats when he presided over a case challenging Arizona’s draconian bill aimed at illegal aliens.
Palmetto State Armory stated that they would “only” sell 999 of their You Lie AR-15 lowers. One can only imagine why someone would buy such a product. Is it meant to be used in hunting down those whom the owner of the weapon believes to have lied? If so, Representative Peter King might want to re-think his proposed law, since the bullets from these weapons have a range well in excess of the 1000 foot gun-free barrier around government officials that King is proposing.
It will be very interesting to see how Joe Wilson responds to the disclosure of this disgusting product being sold in his “honor”. Note that he parlayed his outburst into a huge amount of money. He raised $1,161,187 in the 2008 election cycle pre-outburst but raked in an amazing $4,733,090 in the 2010 election cycle post-outburst. An honorable person most likely would resign in shame, but the more likely outcome is yet another round of cynical fundraising by Wilson based on his being attacked by unreasonable people who would dare to suggest that guns inscribed with the thinly veiled racism in his infamous outburst could possibly provoke an unstable person to use them in violence.