A story about 3D printed “ghost guns” which has been making headlines around the country is far from over, but here’s an update as of the beginning of August. It’s an important First and Second Amendment story with overtones that suggest we may also be at the beginning of a new technological and philosophical era.
The public announcement in July that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had settled in a case challenging their prior restraint of 3-D printing information published briefly online about five years ago by Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed of Texas has set off a series of new legal and political actions.
The original suit in which the settlement was reached was filed by Defense Distributed (DD) and the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) on First and Second Amendment grounds.
In the settlement the State Department clearly allows Defense Distributed to publish on the Internet the blue prints for the manufacture of the originally prohibited Liberator pistol as well as any other new gun designs the company wishes by anyone with a 3D printer.
Buried in the details is a significant acknowledgement by the government that non-automatic firearms up to .50-caliber are not inherently military. That would include semi-automatic modern sporting rifles, such as the AR-15 platform guns, which are the most popular rifle in America today.
This amounts to a significant blow to gun prohibition lobbying groups, which have insisted on calling modern semi-auto rifles “weapons of war,” according to Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of SAF. He said the Defense Distributed settlement can be used to refute that claim.
According to an SAF news release, “Under terms of the settlement, the government has agreed to waive its prior restraint against the plaintiffs, allowing them to freely publish the 3-D files and other information at issue. The government has also agreed to pay a significant portion of the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, and to return $10,000 in State Department registration dues paid by Defense Distributed as a result of the prior restraint.”
The settlement news has inspired anti-gun organizations to take legal and political action, and dozens of US legislators, mostly Democrats, are demanding that the Trump ad
ministration explain a recent agreement to allow the free distribution of plans for using 3D printers to make plastic handguns that will be easy to hide and almost impossible to control.
A group of anti-gun activists’ bid to thwart a State Department settlement with Cody Wilson’s Defense Distributed was dealt a crushing blow in late July when their motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was rejected. The federal judge in the case ruled that Gabby Giffords, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Michael Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety had no standing in the case.
US District Court Judge Robert Pitman rejected the motion brought by Giffords, the Brady Campaign, and Everytown, pointing out that they do not have standing to bring a motion against the settlement.
Giffords, the Brady Campaign, and Everytown also publicly criticized the fact that “the Government…entered into this Settlement Agreement,” and added: Publication of these files on the Internet will cause irreparable harm to the United States and its citizens, as it will allow the global community unfettered access to blueprints for the creation of untraceable and undetectable weapons, which will threaten the security of the United States and its citizens.
Federal officials are not the only ones objecting to the settlement. The New Jersey attorney general and the Los Angeles city attorney threatened prohibiting action against Defense Distributing in an effort to block publication of the firearms blueprints. New York City officials are also reported moving forward with their own effort to block publication.
In the latest development, Defense Distributed and Second Amendment Foundation have filed a new court action in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas against Gurbir S. Grewal, individually, and in his official capacity as Attorney General of New Jersey, and Michael Feuer, individually, and in his official capacity as Los Angeles City Attorney, charging then=m with waging
Grewal and Los Angeles’s City Attorney (Michael Feuer), have threatened legal actions that violate the First Amendment speech rights of Defense Distributed and its audience, including SAF’s members; run afoul of the Dormant Commerce Clause; infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of those who would make use of the knowledge disseminated by Defense Distributed; constitute a tortious interference with Defense Distributed’s business; and are in any event, federally pre-empted by Congress’s export control laws as well as Defense Distributed’s export license, by which the State Department has explicitly authorized the speech that the Defendants are seeking to silence. Plaintiffs are entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief.