“Gun control is not dead,” Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, told Reason. “Gun control is undead. We just keep killing it but it keeps coming back.”
In a recent MSNBC segment called “While You Weren’t Looking,” Katy Tur reports that on Aug. 1, anyone with the proper tech will be able to “print an AR-15” from the comfort of their own homes.
It’s the latest development in a story we’ve been tracking since 2012.
A quick rundown, for the uninitiated…
In 2012, Cody Wilson successfully designed and 3D printed a functioning firearm, then published the design on his website.
It didn’t take long until the designs reached 100,000 downloads.
The Obama Administration put its foot down and accused Wilson of violating arms export laws, demanding he take the plans down.
His lawyer told him he could face millions of dollars in fines and even prison time.
Wilson fired his lawyer, and hired a new team of lawyers and decided to fight back.
His argument: The government action against him didn’t just violate his Second Amendment right, but also his First Amendment right, too.
Code, after all, is a language. Code is speech.
The case — and Cody’s argument — harkens back to an earlier “code is speech” argument set forth by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Daniel J. Bernstein, a Berkeley mathematics Ph.D. student, who wanted to publish an encryption algorithm he developed, was told by the State Department he’d get locked up if he did so without their permission — saying he had to register as an arms dealer first.
Describing the case, the EFF website reads:
“At the time—the early 90s—the US government designated encryption software as a ‘munition’ to be regulated for national security purposes with intensive export restrictions, based on a litany of fear-mongering, techno-ignorant reasons. The law required Bernstein to submit his ideas, register as an arms dealer, and apply for a export license merely to publish his work online. (Infuriatingly, the State Department also warned him they would deny him a license if he actually applied, because his technology was too secure.)”
The EFF won.
The court ruled in Bernstein’s favor. And the first (official) battle in the crypto wars ended in the favor of the private individual.
The court decided the export control laws on encryption did, indeed, violate Bernstein’s First Amendment rights.
Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued the first ruling that found computer code as speech, thereby protected by the First Amendment.
This case, in fact, is the sole reason you’re “allowed” to have secure, private communications online. (That is, in the same manner you’re “allowed” to have private conversations in the comfort of your own home.)
“If code is speech,” Wilson told Wired Magazine back in 2015, in reference to this landmark case, “the constitutional contradictions are evident. So what if this code is a gun?”
It seems the DOJ, on some level, agrees.
Two months ago, the DOJ reached for a settlement with Wilson.
“The Department of Justice’s surprising settlement,” Andy Greenberg writes in Wired, “confirmed in court documents earlier this month, essentially surrenders to that argument. It promises to change the export control rules surrounding any firearm below .50 caliber—with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and rare gun designs that use caseless ammunition—and move their regulation to the Commerce Department, which won’t try to police technical data about the guns posted on the public internet. In the meantime, it gives Wilson a unique license to publish data about those weapons anywhere he chooses.”
Under the agreement, Americans can “access, discuss, use, reproduce or otherwise benefit from the technical data.”
The DOJ even offered to pay a portion of Wilson’s legal fees (around $30,000, amounting to, says Cody, about 10%).
Currently, certain pro gun control organizations are freaking out, pushing to “stop downloadable guns” and spreading hysteria around 3D printable files that have been accessible (to anyone who has ever heard of Pirate Bay) for five years now.
Take, for example, this tweet from the Brady Campaign…
The irony here, of course, is the Brady Campaign wants to use a Freedom of Information Act request to see why they can’t suppress the freedom of information.
Why This is Important (It’s Not Just About Guns)
Truth is, the DOJ couldn’t realistically stop these files from propagating online, as they never really went away, even after they cracked down on Cody…
Any attempt to do so would be (and was) met with the “Streisand Effect,” which states that any attempt to censor anything online only serves to widen its reach. (In this case, the gun files just ended up on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of torrent sites online, after the DOJ cracked down on Cody)…
The DOJ made the wise choice.
The case wasn’t just about the files.
Had the DOJ won, the law would’ve barred anyone from merely posting anything online about 3-D printed guns without first being granted permission.
It wouldn’t just cause a mountain of confusion about what could and couldn’t be said online without license to do so — it would set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech.
Prohibiting the free exchange of information is far more dangerous than “allowing” individuals to manufacture their own guns in their home.
Five points here:
1] Making guns at home for personal use is already legal.
2] At present, it’s far easier and cheaper to buy a gun on the street, if we’re worried about criminals having crappy one-shot Liberators.
3] About 15% of guns used in crimes are stolen. Half are black market purchases. Getting guns through the black market, for criminals, is easy. No amount of legislation will change that.
4] Home 3D printers are still incredibly niche. If every single person with a 3D printer at home printed a gun (an estimated 300,000), it would add to less than .10% of guns already in America. Not even a dent.
The idea that code is speech is more important to preserve than it is to (try to) stop a few people from printing guns in their basements.
It’s important for online privacy. It’s important for open-source projects online (like, say, Bitcoin). And it’s important for the free flow of information.
On Aug. 1, in short, you’ll be granted permission to do what you were already allowed to do…
Download a file.
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today
P.S. In other News…
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