TL;DR: Washington state federal Judge Robert Lasnik recently overturned a settlement between Defense Distributed and the Trump administration, allowing the ability to publish downloadable files of 3D gun blueprints for firearms. Washington v U.S. Department of State et al, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 18-01115 is another strike at freedom of speech’s heart in the digital age.
Online 3D Gun Blueprints Ruled Unlawful
“The Department of State concluded,” Judge Lasnik ruled on November 12th, 2019, “that the worldwide publication of computerized instructions for the manufacture of undetectable firearms was a threat to world peace and the national security interests of the United States and would cause serious and long-lasting harm to its foreign policy.”
Today’s decision blocking online publication of 3D gun blueprints is a victory for gun safety and the rule of law, and a defeat for Donald Trump, who is afraid to stand up and protect Americans from gun violence. https://t.co/PDnJQdVZNO
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) November 13, 2019
On that less than sober note, he insisted a Trump administration agreement with Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed, which allowed for online distribution of 3D gun blueprints, be scrapped due to a process violation. Judge Lasnik stressed the administration didn’t provide Congress with a 30 notice required by law. “Because the agency action was ‘without observance of procedure required by law,’ it must be held unlawful and set aside,” he demanded.
It wasn’t too long ago, in mid-2018, Cody Wilson and his company Defense Distributed based on Austin, Texas were celebrating a sudden turn in their years-long battle with the US State Department. In 2012, Wilson, a law student at the time, gave-in to inspiration from Wikileaks, hoping to capitalize on the growing Maker movement of the nascent home 3D printing phenomenon.
Combining his love for radical politics and firearms, Wilson began a campaign to crowdsource what he called a WikiWeapon. The concept essentially freed 2nd Amendment logic from its paper and legal constraints, making every man his own permissionless gun manufacturer should he have the necessary, increasingly inexpensive materials and machinery.
In truth, Rifleman culture in the US lay dormant until Wilson’s revival. A once proud tradition of projectile weapon literacy, understanding its mechanism and physics, had lingered into a kind of malaise under the burden of gun control legislation and general hysteria. Wilson’s idea was to re-embrace that tradition at a cellular level, wherein but a few cases the making of one’s own rifle or gun was still very much legal. Why not exploit that long-forgotten opening?
The Liberator was born. A simple, mostly plastic WikiWeapon was real, in the wild, and used by Wilson in a video demonstration seen around the world. He became a notorious celebrity, and files for the gun and a lower receiver were published online for free, downloadable from Defense Distributed. By 2013, the State Department sent Wilson a letter in response, informing how he and his company was in violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Wilson removed the files.
Rights of Speech and Self Defense
He and Defense Distributed then waited for clarification about how to eventually free the files through a routine license or otherwise, but the State Department stalled. Wilson eventually sued the federal government, linking the often derided 2nd Amendment to the 1st. Under the 1st Amendment, five basic freedoms are outlined which prohibit Congress from abridging: press, religion, speech, assembly, and petition.
For cryptocurrency advocates, from where Wilson had strong roots as a crypto-anarchist, the arguments rang true. He was merely a publisher, distributing information online. Its content was almost beside the point when it came to government regulation. Making a gun wasn’t illegal under the 2nd Amendment. Reading about how to make one also wasn’t illegal, according to the 1st Amendment.
The case made its way through federal courts slowly, and as the Obama administration’s hostility gave to a potentially more amenable Trump administration through national elections, Wilson was suddenly called back to the negotiating table summer of 2018. The newly staffed State Department cut a deal with Defense Distributed, allowing it to publish the files if they dropped their suit. Some observers felt an eventual Wilson legal victory could open the floodgates, and so a settlement on the government’s terms might be a good way to put the issue aside.
Laziness and Basic Error
Immediately, dozens of states went after the 2018 deal, filing injunction after injunction to stop the files from appearing again online. This meant Defense Distributed would have to fight on many fronts rather than just one. Wilson pivoted and, seizing upon a legal loophole in a 2018 decision, no longer distributed the files for free. He would essentially sell them, like an Amazon type of arrangement, for a suggested price and physically send files on a thumb drive to customers through the mail.
Meanwhile, Defense Distributed continued the court battle on numerous fronts, including last week’s decision in Washington state. It is unclear as of this writing how supportive the Trump administration can remain in light of a politically weakened President and growing calls for ever-more confiscatory gun legislation. Neither the State Department nor DOJ has commented on the latest findings.
In an unsigned post on Defense Distributed’s blog, presumably written by Wilson, the response to last week’s decision was defiant. “We have come to expect this kind of laziness and basic error from district judges,” he wrote. “The good news is the appeal window to the Ninth Circuit opens soon. The standard of review is de novo, so such a one-sided and obviously wrong order should be easy enough to reverse. The Feds likely don’t want such an order to stand, but I won’t argue for them here. I won’t share our overall appellate strategy in these blog posts, but no one is going to be interested in Lasnik and the Seattle action in the next stage of this controversy.”
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