It’s going to be an interesting week in the Gun Control debate! There is of course, no massive gun violence disaster at the moment (unless you count crime rates in cities with bad gun laws), but there are some upcoming midterm elections… which explains why earlier this week, Democratic senators and Attorney Generals lashed out against an upcoming “Ghost Guns” apocalypse that could only be averted by new legislation, which could only be brought by new legislators, who are currently running for office.
That being said, there was a gun-related legal decision last month that kicked all of this off, and it does bear talking about. A quick recap: In 2013, the State Department demanded that Cody Wilson shut down defcad.com, a collection of downloadable 3D firearm files, claiming that sharing digital blueprints was a violation of ITAR’s weapon export controls. Wilson took down the files, and then sued the State Department, arguing that the order violated his First, Second, and Fifth Amendment rights.
To fund his lawsuit, Cody Wilson’s company Defense Distributed has been selling miniature CNC mills programmed to finish out 80% lowers for AR-15s, 1911s, and Glocks. After five years of legal back-and-forth, the US State Department finally settled the suit, paid back 10% of Wilson’s legal fees, and admitted that digital firearm blueprints could legally be published online.
This is just common sense; apart from his 3D-printable Liberator pistol, the 3D files Wilson was sharing online were mostly things like AR-15 and 1911 measurements and CAD drawings, information that has been publicly available and globally published for decades. It’s preposterous so say that information in one form (physical) is legal, while the same information in an other form (digital) is illegal.
However, this isn’t really new territory; the US government has been trying to control dissemination of computer code for decades as well. Major cases involved sanctions on the inventors of early encryption algorithms, and attempts to outlaw digital movies files on hard drives, while legalizing digital movie files on DVDs. Nevertheless, US legal precedent tends to favor the idea that computer code is free speech.
Which is why Cody Wilson’s new opponents aren’t attacking him on those grounds. Shortly after the State Department’s quiet retreat, the (Democratic) Attorney Generals of eight states (Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and of course, the District of Columbia) have launched a new lawsuit to shut Cody Wilson down again, this time on the basis of public safety, horror stories about potential terrorism, and because it was Trump who made the State Dep’t give free gun blueprints away.
If you read through the complaints from the various (Democratic) AGs and legislators, you won’t find any mentions of free speech, CNC machines, or the constitution. All they can talk about is Trump, 3D printers, magical machine guns showing up in “any public place.” At a press conference last week, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) warned that “these Ghost Guns are the new wave of American gun violence… They are undetectable, untraceable; forget about the TSA guarding the plane that you board!”
As he spoke, a somber Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) slowly lifted a giant poster depicting two AR-15’s with (possibly) polymer lower receivers, but obviously equipped with metal upper receivers, metal bolts, metal barrels, metal rails, metal sights, metal optics, and presumably metal internal parts and loaded with metal ammunition. Reporters covering this issue have been equally clueless as the technology they are discussing.
Nevertheless, I predict that this lawsuit, ostensibly aimed at Cody Wilson but repeatedly naming Donald Trump, won’t last long after the midterms. If it can scare a few voters out to the polls it will have done its job. Unfortunately, the demonizing of guns, 3D printers, computer code, and free speech will not end any time soon. We need to continue to defend all the tools that will allow us to defend liberty.
Check back on the blog, and we’ll be talking from about this issue, especially as it relates to 3D printing, gun manufacturing, and the ways that new technologies are affecting these issues.