May 7, 2015 | By Alec

A new chapter in the controversial history of Defense Distributed, the infamous and publicity-mad producer of 3D printable gun designs, seems to have just begun. Remember way back in 2013, when Defense Distributed were ordered by the State Department to remove the designs for the 3D printable single-shot The Liberator from its website? Cody Wilson, the Texan guy behind these 3D printed guns, and his lawyers are now suing the State Department and some of its officials (including John Kerry, for some reason) and argue that the 2013 order was unconstitutional. ‘Defense Distributed believed, and continues to believe, that the United States Constitution guarantees a right to share truthful speech. Especially speech concerning fundamental constitutional rights in open forums.’

Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed was joined in the lawsuit by The Second Amendment Foundation, a large-budget institution that regularly finances lawsuits related to gun rights. In their filing – which can be found here – they are essentially claiming that the Government is unconstitutionally censoring information and First Amendment-guaranteed free speech, rather than guns. However, violations of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the Fifth Amendment right to due process are also included. The litigation team is led by constitutional attorney Alan Gura and includes William "Tommy" Jacks, Bill Mateja, and David Morris, export control counsel Matthew Goldstein and Josh Blackman, Professor of Constitutional Law.

The exact problem can be found in 2013, when the gun designs were online for a brief period of time and they were downloaded more than 100,000 times. The State Department, however, cited a set of rules design to regulate the exportation of military data and weapons known as ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) and ordered Defense Distributed to take down the plans or face fines of up to one million dollars per violation as well as prison time.

Defense Distributed removed all the files in response after this warning. ‘Defense Distributed may have released ITAR-controlled technical data without the required prior authorization from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), a violation of the ITAR.’ The warning claimed way back in June 2013. Other writers of code faced similar charged in the 1990s, and they essentially claim that posting code for guns is the legally the same thing as shipping a crate of guns to another country.

But as Wilson’s lawyers are claiming that the Government is simply seeking to censor internet data, rather than guns. ‘The Internet is available worldwide, so posting something on the Internet is deemed an export, and to [the State Department] this justifies imposing a prior restraint on Internet speech,’ Alan Gura, told reporters. ‘That’s a vast, unchecked seizure of power over speech that’s…not authorized by our constitution.’

Other lawyer Matthew Goldstein further argues that the Government simply panicked after the Sandy Hook shooting, and decided to make an example out of Defense Distributed. ‘After Sandy Hook, the government decided that it wanted to stop this. But there were no laws that allowed them to do so within the Constitution. So they reached into their bag of tricks and suddenly pulled out ITAR,’ he said.

The co-sponsors of the Lawsuit from The Second Amendment Foundation have also come up with claims about free speech. ‘Americans have always been free to exchange information about firearms and manufacture their own arms,’ Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb of SAF said. ‘We also have an expectation that any speech regulations be spelled out clearly, and that individuals be provided basic procedural protections if their government claims a power to silence them.’

So what will happen? That is difficult to predict, though Wilson and his team are putting their faith in a precedent on ITAR from the 1990s, when a cryptographer was investigated for controversial code as well. Charges against that Dan Bernstein were dropped, and he went on to sue the State Department on first amendment charges and won. Subsequent cases then protected ITAR from being called unconstitutional on first amendment grounds.

Wilson therefore calls this lawsuit the spiritual successor to that one, but things are very different this time around. This time, it isn’t about code with possible military applications, but about actual guns. As intellectual property lawyer Ansel Halliburton said in a guest article for Techcrunch, this isn’t an open and shut case. ‘The State Department’s takedown demand probably qualifies as a prior restraint, to which courts are incredibly hostile,’ he wrote in 2013. ‘But the ability to download a file, press ‘Print,’ and have gun parts come out could also tip some judges toward calling gun CAD files functional things and allowing the government to regulate them.’

Whatever the results, this lawsuit might finally bring some legal clarity to this controversy that has rocked the American 3D printing community for years.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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thebluelion wrote at 5/30/2015 6:34:10 AM:

Just printed a Defense Distributed AR V5 lower today.Files are all still available if you know where to look. Design looks great...and pretty strong after treating with acetone vapors! :)

Jeff wrote at 5/13/2015 6:24:53 PM:

Lets take the governemnts stance on this to its extreem conclusion and see if there is merit, or if it would be ripe for abuse and need curtailing: You can 3d print drone parts and whole drones. A remote control model airplan is technically a "drone". Drones can be used for military purposes, and can be adapted to terrorist activities. Therefore under ITAR, the state department could prohibit sharing of files to make model airplane parts? -Fail Prosthetic limbs can be used as part of a robot. Robots can be used in some military applications. Therefore under ITAR, the state department could prohibit sharing of files to make parts for prosthetic limbs? -Fail CAD files, such as used for 3d printing, are used in a host of other computerized machining operatons. So any CAD file that could produce a part for a weapon or weapon system could become illegal to share? -Fail

House Stark wrote at 5/7/2015 4:06:12 PM:

Pretty good least the middle and end of the article. We could do without the obvious bias at the beginning of the article in trying to spin Defense Distributed as bad and crazy ("infamous and publicity-mad") and the lawsuit against America's powerful central authority as lacking in some form of cohesiveness ("including John Kerry, for some reason"). 3d printing is about freedom, something that powerful oligarchs throughout history (whither they are powerful businessmen or centralized government of one sort or another) have been trying control since the beginning of time. In order to preserve your own freedom, oftentimes you have to defend the freedom of others that you may not totally agree with.

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