3D Printed Gun
Photo: Defense Distributed/NPR

On December 17, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie and 14 other Republican lawmakers filed an amicus brief on behalf of Defense Distributed, a non-profit organization that designs weapons that may be downloaded and printed with a 3D printer.

Defense Distributed is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the U.S. State Department over the legality of publicly posting blueprints of 3D printable weapons online. In 2013, DD’s founder Cody Wilson created the world’s first 3D printed handgun. Shortly after Wilson posted the blueprints online for free downloading, he was contacted by the State Department and told that his designs were under the jurisdiction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The State Department insisted that “this means that all data should be removed from public access immediately.”

After months of delays, Defense Distributed filed a lawsuit requesting an injunction that would keep the Obama administration from blocking the posting of the blueprints for the “Liberator” 3D printed gun.

Massie stated that “the State Department’s improper and unconstitutional interpretation of federal law is likely to chill scientific and technological advancement in the United States.” The brief also noted that Massie is an MIT-trained engineer and inventor, as well as a Member of the Committee on Science, Space & Technology.

“We expect the Court to recognize that the State Department exceeded the authority granted to it by Congress and violated the First, Second, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution,” Massie stated.

The day after Massie’s brief was filed, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit focused on protecting civil liberties, also filed a brief in support of Defense Distributed.

“The State Department claimed that publishing the files on the Internet could violate the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which controls the international export of defense-related technology. After suggesting Defense Distributed put in an administrative request to determine whether the files were, in fact, controlled, the State Department sat on the request for nearly two years—only acting after Defense Distributed sued. It then concluded that a license was required to publish most of the files at issue,” the EFF wrote.

The EFF’s brief also noted that “the scope of [International Traffic in Arms Regulations]’s prohibition on speech could apply to members of the press republishing newsworthy technical data, professors educating the public on scientific and medical advances of public concern, enthusiasts sharing otherwise lawful information about firearms, domestic activists trading tips about how to treat tear gas or resist unlawful surveillance, and gun control opponents expressing a point about proliferation of weapons.”

The Cato Institute filed an amicus brief calling on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to defend the First Amendment right of Americans to share open-source technical information.

As Cato writes, “Defense Distributed is not in the business of distributing arms. What it distributes, as properly recognized by the district court, is computer code in the form of CAD and other files. Code and digital files are speech for purposes of the First Amendment, as several federal appellate courts have recognized. Most importantly, simply because speech may be used for unlawful purposes by third parties doesn’t mean it loses constitutional protection.”

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The topic of 3D printed guns is likely to continue to be a contentious topic of debate as gun violence is the focus of much of the media. Police in Queensland, Australia recently busted a crystal-methamphetamine lab with several weapons produced with 3D printers. The bust came shortly after Australia passed legislation to regulate 3D printed weapons.

The U.S. government can craft as many pieces of legislation as they’d like, but the fact remains that if people want to commit violence or want means of self-defense they will use whatever means are at their disposal, including creating weapons with emerging technologies. 3D printed weapons, like all technology, are simply tools that can be applied in any number of ways. The state fails every time they attempt to legislate morality or attempts to create security through statism.

For more information on DefenseDistributed vs. U.S. State Department check out this recent interview with Cody Wilson.