Honestly, it seemed like I was the only one excited by the prospect of 3D printing your own firearms and parts. While there was plenty of press about the Justice Department’s decision to stop trying to prevent Defense Distributed from spreading the files, it just didn’t seem like there was a lot of interest in folks printing their own parts.
In fact, if the anti-gunners had realized that, they might have taken a step back and recognized that maybe this wasn’t the threat they thought it was. Too bad that’s something they just can’t do. They don’t know how to ignore something that doesn’t seem to have much interest from the firearm community in the first place.
So, they found a friendly judge and got him to infringe on two rights, not just the right to keep and bear arms.
If there’s a hall of fame for futile, symbolic, and ultimately unconstitutional federal court orders, the temporary restraining order just issued in Seattle blocking Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation from posting blueprints for 3D-printed guns deserves at least a plaque, if not a full display. The court’s order temporarily overturns a Trump administration legal settlement that reversed an Obama-era policy designed mainly to limit the spread of the relevant files abroad, not here at home. I love NPR’s sardonic Twitter response:
It’s unclear how the temporary order can be enforced. The plans were already placed online days ago and downloaded thousands of times and posted online elsewhere.
— NPR (@NPR) July 31, 2018
NPR gets it. Let’s be clear about what has just happened. A federal court has issued a prior restraint on speech (it’s attempting to block the spread of information; it is not blocking the lawful home manufacture of firearms) that is already thoroughly and completely moot. The files are out. They’re all over the internet. They’ve been copied and reproduced. The judge’s order can’t change that fact.
Earlier today I published a lengthy explainer of the factual and legal issues surrounding the 3D-printed gun controversy. I’d urge you to read the whole thing, but the bottom line is easy to understand. First, home manufacture of weapons is clearly lawful, and it has been common practice in the United States since before the founding of the nation. Second, it is thus just as lawful to “print” a gun as it is to assemble one with parts in your garage. Third, the plans to print guns are widely-available on the internet — and have been for some time.
Put another way, a gun that’s lawful to assemble is lawful to print. A gun that’s unlawful to assemble is unlawful to print, and that includes undetectable plastic guns that are either printed or assembled. It’s that simple.There is no new “threat” here. There is no crisis.
The injunction thus accomplishes nothing of any meaning in the real world, but it does have legal consequences for free speech. A federal judge is trying to block the free flow of information, including instructions as to how to make entirely lawful products. I would say this is dangerous, but given the high likelihood that his order will be overturned, let’s just call it irresponsible.
David French, writing in the National Review is right. There’s a free speech issue involved here as well. By blocking the sharing of data, a file that in and of itself represents nothing illegal or restricted, the judge has effectively used his judicial authority to infringe on people’s freedom of speech. If you can’t see this as a potential problem, then there’s something seriously wrong with you.
Further, as noted above, these files were already out there. That’s probably why there was so little excitement over the Justice Department’s decision, truth be told. I could go on about why that was probably wrong, but whatever.
What does matter, however, is that if a firearm is lawful to assemble in any other context should be lawful to print.
Right now, I can make a few clicks and purchase an 80 percent receiver that I can finish out with a hand drill and a file or a router. I can get receivers for AR-15s or semi-automatic handguns. These can be purchased and shipped anywhere in the country right now. They require less monetary investment than 3D printing of firearms, but 3D printing is the big bugaboo today?
3D printing of guns makes gun control impossible, but it’s not the only way someone can build a firearm in their backyard. Believe me, I’ve done it.
I get that new technology is scary, but I’d be shocked if this injunction isn’t overturned quickly and for a variety of reasons. It’s an absolutely disgusting travesty that it happened in the first place.