3D Gun Printing Becomes a First Amendment Issue

3D Gun Printing Becomes a First Amendment Issue
This is the “Liberator,” a single-shot pistol designed to be created on a 3D Printer. The federal government has demanded that plans not be published online, and a lawsuit is challenging that order.

The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) has joined Defense Distributed of Austin, Texas, in a lawsuit that seeks to stop the federal government from censoring information related to the 3D printing of guns. Though this issue, at its heart, is about firearms, the question for the courts is about more than gun rights. The suit says this censorship “violates the First Amendment right to free speech, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and the Fifth Amendment right to due process.”

The 3D printing of guns made headlines in 2013 after Defense Distributed made blueprints for a 3D-printed gun, called “the Liberator,” available for anyone to download off the Internet. The Liberator is a single-shot handgun designed to shoot .380 ACP ammunition. A lot of YouTube videos show Liberators being test-fired.

Defense Distributed says it exists “to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, through facilitating global access to, and the collaborative production of, information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms.”

The files to print the Liberator were downloaded more than 100,000 times before the U.S. Department of State's Office of Defense Trade Controls issued a letter to Defense Distributed demanding that it take the Liberator plans down. The State Department justified this demand by saying it had the right to regulate the flow of technical data related to arms as outlined in Arms Export Control Act of 1976. (Plans for the Liberator, however, can still be found in many corners of the Internet and on filing-sharing websites.) Banning these plans made it a censorship issue.

SAF and Defense Distributed say they want to publish 3D-printing information at no cost to the public. Attorney Alan Gura of Gura & Possessky is leading the litigation team, which also includes William "Tommy" Jacks, Bill Mateja, and David Morris of Fish & Richardson. If Gura's name sounds familiar, it's because he was the lead attorney behind two gun cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court: District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).