Cody Wilson founded Defense Distributed with the goal of wiping out gun control worldwide, and so it should come as no surprise that he’s willing to go head-to-head with the U.S. government in a David versus Goliath battle over our First and Second Amendment rights.
Wilson’s gun manufacturing advocacy group Defense Distributed, along with the gun rights group the Second Amendment Foundation, on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the State Department and several of its officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry. In their complaint, they claim that a State Department agency called the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) violated their first amendment right to free speech by telling Defense Distributed that it couldn’t publish a 3-D printable file for its one-shot plastic pistol known as the Liberator, along with a collection of other printable gun parts, on its website.
In its 2013 letter to Defense Distributed, the DDTC cited a long-controversial set of regulations known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which controls whether and how Americans can sell weapons beyond U.S. borders. By merely posting a 3-D-printable file to a website, in other words, the DDTC claimed Defense Distributed had potentially violated arms export controls—just as if it had shipped a crate of AR-15s to, say, Mexico. But the group’s lawsuit now argues that whether or not the Liberator is a weapon, its blueprints are “speech,” and that Americans’ freedom of speech is protected online—even when that speech can be used to make a gun with just a few clicks.
“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,” says Alan Gura, the lawyer leading the lawsuit, using the legal term “prior restraint” to mean censorship of speech before it’s published. “That’s a vast, unchecked seizure of power over speech that’s…not authorized by our constitution.”
“If code is speech, the constitutional contradictions are evident…So what if this code is a gun?” asks Cody Wilson, Defense Distributed’s founder, a radical libertarian who dropped out of the University of Texas law school to run the firearms access group. “Nothing can possibly stand in the way of this being disseminated to the people, and yet they insist on maintaining the power to do so.”
The government’s efforts at suppressing the information are already fruitless as a practical matter.
The files for the Liberator have been widely distributed on file-sharing sites and can readily be downloaded by anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection. Similar designs, and designs for printed standard capacity magazines, receivers, and entire firearms can be had for both plastic printers and “real steel” CNC machines if you know where to look. Put bluntly, if someone wants to build a firearm, they can find the plans and the equipment to do so, not matter what threats the government makes.
But Wilson is after far more than just the practical defeat of gun control by overwhelming it with a data flood. He’s also attempting to roll back federal power, challenging their constitutional authority to control information and constrain Defense Distributed and other creators on First, Second, and Fifth Amendment grounds.
The suit filed by Defense Distributed asserts that computer code is nothing more or less than another form of free speech that must be protected, and that the government does not have the constitutional authority to censor that speech. The suit also claims that the State Department regulation violates the unquestioned federal right of citizens to manufacture firearms for their own personal use. Finally, the suit claims that State violated due process (Fifth Amendment) by holding the threat of prosecution against Defense Distributed for two years without even making a determination if their files were illegal.
American citizens who value their liberty should strongly support Defense Distributed’s case against the State Department’s absurd abuse of ITAR regulations intended to stop the flow of technologically-advanced military weapons to hostile foreign powers.
It cannot reasonably be argued that in an emerging age of thermal sensors, satellite imagining, drone swarms, rail guns and lasers, that a single-shot pistol like the Liberator is a threat to national security.
The real threat to our liberty and security is the ever-encroaching tyranny of a federal government that seems increasingly determined to lord over instead of to serve it’s citizens.
We could use a few more Americans like Cody Wilson dedicated to reasserting our individual rights.