Americans have been making their own guns since before there was a United States or Second Amendment – and even with the unconstitutional restrictions we have today, home gunsmithing is still not a crime. But with the rise of 3D printing, it was inevitable that someone would generate designs for 3D printed firearms and – thanks to that modern marvel we call the internet – new demands for gun control.
Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, is that someone. By suing the U.S. Departments of State and Justice for stifling his First Amendment freedom of speech in mandating that he not post his blueprints online, Wilson secured a couple of concessions that may seriously undermine the gun control movement. First, the settlement acknowledges that code is speech, and that the government can’t prohibit Wilson or anyone else from sharing it freely if they so choose. Second, they redefine the phrase “Military Equipment” to exclude semi-automatic weapons smaller than .50 caliber.
Government Overreach Backfired
In 2013, a 25-year-old Cody Wilson test-fired his first 3D printed gun – and it worked. The plans for the .380 pistol were downloaded over 100,000 times in just a few days after he uploaded them to his website, defcad.com.Cody Wilson
Wilson then dropped out of law school and launched his non-profit, Defense Distributed, with plans to build the world’s largest repository of 3D printable gun blueprints. But the State Department had other plans, and sent Wilson a letter less than a week later threatening to prosecute him for exporting weapons without a license if he didn’t take down his plans.
Of course, Wilson wasn’t distributing guns – just the plans necessary to print them. Misrepresenting a person’s actions or misquoting a law in order to scare people out of doing something entirely legal may be a long-standing government tradition, but this time, it backfired.
Wilson took down his site as ordered. Then, in 2015, he and the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) sued the State Department for violating Wilson’s right to distribute information he owned as he saw fit.
The Win for Liberty
When the State and Justice Departments offered Wilson a settlement to end the lawsuit, they did more than just reaffirm his First Amendment right to freely express himself. They redefined “Military Equipment” to exclude any semi-automatic weapon smaller than .50 caliber – with only a few exceptions.
As Alan Gottlieb, founder of the SAF, told Breitbart:
“Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby. For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called “weapons of war,” and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort.
The federal government now saying semi-automatic firearms below .50 caliber are not inherently military means that they are admitting that rifles like the AR-15 are civilian in nature. This makes perfect sense, as they existed years before the military adopted the fully automatic version.”
Misrepresenting the Second Amendment
This settlement empowers those who would like to make their own guns at home. It allows them to avoid paying taxes for their guns, though the materials and equipment would still be taxed, and opt out of unconstitutional background checks. It gives more people the ability to protest the idea that gun dealers should have a federal license by providing yet another way around dealing with them all together. It has the added value of directly refuting a common gun control argument – that AR-15s are military equipment. In these regards, this is a win for liberty.
But in another sense, it misrepresents the Second Amendment. The purpose of the right to keep and bear arms was not to allow for hunting or sport shooting – it wasn’t even really about self-defense against criminals, though these are all fortunate side benefits. The Second Amendment was put in place by men who had just won their liberty from an oppressive government, and it protects the rights of the people to do the same in the future, should it become necessary.
Like most who believe in the unfettered right to keep and bear arms, I’ll take what wins I can get. However, the Second Amendment is a guarantee against future government tyranny, and the language is intentionally broad in order to allow for the eventual advancements in weapons technology. The right to keep and bear arms means very little if it doesn’t allow for military equipment.