After a lengthy legal battle with the State Department, the head of a Texas-based gun company starting Aug. 1 will be able to post online firearms plans that will allow basically anyone to download and print 3D guns.
Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, says the case has far-reaching implications not only for the Second Amendment and restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, but First Amendment issues as well.
“What I settled for was them saying I had basically the unquestioned, authorized right to publish this stuff,” Mr. Wilson said. “I don’t think you can actually overstate how important it is to the Second Amendment, to American gun culture. I think it’s a very important pillar [in] the 21st century life of our culture.”
Under the terms of the settlement reached in June, Mr. Wilson can publicly release the plans once more, and the Defense Distributed website already is advertising Aug. 1 as a relaunch date. The government also agreed to pay about $40,000 in legal fees.
In 2013, the State Department ordered Defense Distributed to remove the products it made available for download, saying the company was running afoul of international arms regulations.
In turn, Defense Distributed sued, arguing that the State Department was violating its free speech rights to post the files online. After several court rulings that sided with the State Department, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
The State Department said it was a “voluntary settlement” and pointed out that the court did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs.
The agreement comes as the Trump administration is weighing changes to its firearms export rules that would transfer oversight of certain weapons from the State Department to the more business-friendly Commerce Department.
“These proposed regulations are part of an ongoing effort to create a simpler, more robust export control system that eases industry compliance, enhances enforceability and better protects truly sensitive technologies,” said a State Department spokesperson.
The Justice Department had no comment.
The settlement states that the material in question will fall outside of the State Department’s regulatory jurisdiction for “commercially available” items.
“To have kept fighting would be to argue against the trend of export control reform, but also would be to argue they wanted a plenary police power on the internet, which is an incredible task,” Mr. Wilson said.
“The curse of victory at this point would have really sunk the State Department,” he said. “They would have had to police all data related to guns online, which we know is just absurd.”
Mr. Wilson and his legal team said that with the agreement, the government recognizes that non-automatic firearms up to .50-caliber — which include semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 — are not “inherently military.”
The settlement is “a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby,” said Alan M. Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which helped negotiate the settlement.
“For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semiautomatic, sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
Gun control advocates, meanwhile, said the case has far-reaching implications that could make the public less safe.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has filed public records requests to find out more about how the government ultimately arrived at the terms of the settlement.
“It is absolutely terrifying that on August 1st, we may in fact have blueprints for 3D-printed AR-15s going up on the internet and that the Trump administration decided to settle a case to let that happen,” said Avery Gardiner, the group’s co-president.
She said it was odd to strike a settlement in the middle of the rule-making process.
“That leaves almost no time for anybody to try to intervene in any way to stop blueprints for untraceable, undetectable 3D guns going up on the internet in a way that will make us at greater risk both at home and abroad,” Ms. Gardiner said.
In a roundabout way, the settlement could end up hurting traditional gun manufacturers if it truly does open new markets for people to download and print their own weapons, said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York-Cortland.
“Who would benefit from having a gun that’s untraceable? The answer is, criminals and the criminally minded,” said Mr. Spitzer, who has written extensively on the politics of gun control. “It’s hard to imagine any constructive legal purpose that is advanced by allowing people to have their own guns that are untraceable.”
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