Monday, November 20, 2017

Cutting Edge: What Happened When 3-D Printing Tech Collided with Gun Control

 by Nomad

Cody R. Wilson

The Fifth Most Dangerous Person on the Net

Free market anarchist and gun-rights activist, Cody R. Wilson of Austin, Texas, has a dream. He wants to end the gun control debate once and for all.
How? By giving every person who wants one the opportunity to own an unlicensed assault weapon. And he is using cutting-edge unregulated (and unregulatable) technology to make that happen.

As founder and director his non-profit organization. Defense Distributed, Wilson published open-source gun designs (CAD files) which can easily be downloaded and self-manufactured using 3-D printing and assembly tools.

This meant that people could print semi-automatic rifles from the comfort of their own home. According to Wikipedia:
Defense Distributed has to date produced a durable printed receiver for the AR-15, the first printed standard capacity AR-15 magazine, and the first printed magazine for the AK-47.
In addition, files were distributed for the world's first fully 3D printable gun, the Liberator .380 single shot pistol. The designs of the component parts were available free of charge online In just two days, the so-called Liberator file was downloaded approximately 100,000 times on torrent sites. 

In 2015, Wired named Wilson the fifth most dangerous person on the Internet. He justified his plan this way:
"I'm just resisting. What am I resisting? I don't know, the collectivization of manufacture? The institutionalization of the human psyche? I'm not sure. But I can tell you one thing: this is a symbol of irreversibility. They can never eradicate the gun from the earth."
His goal of putting a cheap unregulated weapon in the hands of every wannabee domestic terrorist, every paranoid crackpot and every hate-filled person with a political ax to grind, really isn't that much different than the goals of the National Rifle Association.

Executive Vice President and CEO of NRA Wayne LaPierre once said:
The presence of a firearm makes us all safer.
While many Americans might disagree, that's a position that gun manufacturers would endorse wholeheartedly. 
Since 2005, the gun industry and its corporate allies have given between $20 million and $52.6 million to it through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program. Donors include firearm companies like Midway USA, Springfield Armory Inc, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, and Beretta USA Corporation. Other supporters from the gun industry include Cabala's, Sturm Rugar & Co, and Smith & Wesson.
Ironically, Wilson's project to DIY gun production would, in theory, put him in direct competition with the NRA's chief supporters.

The Government Strikes Back

In response to the distribution of the CAD models of his printable gun, the State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance then ordered him to remove it, threatening prosecution.
They claimed he was violating regulations against the international export of unapproved arms. To put it another way,
the CAD files posted by the organization could not be “exported” abroad — in the form of online publication — without government pre-approval.
And that wasn't happening.

Crying foul, Wilson opened a lawsuit which alleged that the State Department had violated his first amendment rights to free speech. Wilson claimed that sharing CAD codes was simply a form of expression, protected under the Constitution. 
The 2016 case, Defense Distributed v. United States Department of State, the Fifth Circuit ruled against the plaintiffs. 

The court refused to suspend a regulation restricting publication of computer-aided design (CAD) files that enabled the public to print guns or gun parts using just a 3D printer. CAD files could not, it was decided, be legitimately claimed as free speech under the Constitution. 

Quite reasonably, the courts also concluded that the public interest in national security outweighed appellants' interest in protecting their constitutional rights, it denied a preliminary injunction. The court held the government's exceptionally strong interest in national defense and national security outweighed appellant's constitutional rights under these circumstances.

Once and For All

And this decision leads a rather perplexing problem for gun advocates. If the government's interest to protect national security takes a higher priority over first amendment rights, why does the same national security interest- when it comes to mass slaughter- not apply to second amendment rights? 

Admittedly, that might sound pretty far-fetched until you consider the type of battlefield weapons that could and do fall into the hands of anti-government domestic terrorists. Isn't this a matter of national security? 

If the courts are ever asked to rule whether gun rights overrule the government's interest in protecting national security, Wilson might just get his wish of ending the gun control debate once and for all.