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At Fox News: Here’s why restrictions on 3D guns would violate the First Amendment as well as the Second

31 Jul , 2018  

Dr. John Lott has a new piece up at Fox News on the continuing debate over 3D printers.

Gun control advocates don’t just have a problem with the Second Amendment – they also have real problems with the First Amendment. In an era when people can use 3D metal printers to make guns, does the First Amendment protect a book detailing a gun manufacturing process – but not computer file that does the same thing?

The question has become particularly urgent. The computer programs that tell 3D printers how to produce these guns are scheduled to be legally downloadable Wednesday.

Late Monday, Democratic attorneys general in eight states and the District of Columbia filed for an emergency injunction to stop the legal downloads. They argue these programs will have a “great detriment of the public and public safety.”

Even President Trump weighed in with a tweet Tuesday saying: “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

The courts have previously weighed in on a similar First Amendment question. In 2010, the Supreme Court found that the First Amendment protects violent video games in the same way that newspapers and books are protected.

A 2001 decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, said: “Communication does not lose constitutional protection as ‘speech’ simply because it is expressed in the language of computer code.”

If you believe gun control advocates, 3D printers will undermine all our gun control laws, letting criminals avoid background checks and making it impossible to ban types of guns. But gun control advocates don’t understand the technology has already outpaced the ability of government to regulate it.

If they want, criminals can already use print guns. The change Wednesday will have no noticeable impact on criminals avoiding background checks and obtaining guns illegally, because the existing laws aren’t stopping them.

With a 3D metal printer, people can use these computer files to make metal guns functionally and visually indistinguishable from a store-bought gun. Metal printers with the capacity to build a firearm are running at less than $10,000, and the price continues to drop.

The printers allow people to make so-called “ghost guns,” which don’t have registered serial numbers and aren’t made by regulated gun makers. Disaster is said to be imminent.

A Washington Post editorial this past Sunday had no problem with exceptions to the First Amendment and warned that posting these computer programs will eviscerate gun control laws and “lead directly to the loss of more innocent lives.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned the 3D-printed guns would lead to a “gut-wrenching epidemic of gun violence.” Twenty-one state attorneys general – all but one a Democrat – wrote the Trump administration claiming printed guns would create “an unprecedented impact on public safety.”

In May 2013, then 25-year-old Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson uploaded a computer file with instructions for 3D printers to make a predominantly plastic gun. Within just two days, 100,000 copies of the blueprint were downloaded around the world. Within a week, the file was available on over 4,000 computers around the world.

Legal computer programs or not, it doesn’t matter: as we’ve seen with movies, file sharing is unstoppable. The most pirated TV program in 2017 was Season 7 of “Game of Thrones,” with well over 10 million illegal downloads in most weeks.

You also don’t even need these computer files to print a gun. One can take apart a gun and take pictures of each part, then use a photogrammetry program that links together the different images to create 3D images. . . .

The rest of the piece is available here.

Here is a statement from Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman at Bloomberg on August 1:

The best way to think about the question is to ask whether the government should be able to ban “The Anarchist Cookbook” or other works that describe how to make Molotov cocktails or simple bombs. Logically, the answer is almost certainly not. How-to guides for criminal activity aren’t like classified information, such as how to build an atomic bomb or make a biological weapon. The information is widely available and may have legitimate uses.

The value of free speech outweighs whatever benefits may come from making it a bit harder for people to figure out how to make illegal weapons. . . .

The Supreme Court now would almost certainly find that a ban on the distribution of 3-D printer code to be “content-based.” . . .

the court would say that a ban on distributing 3-D gun code could only be upheld if the government could show that it had a compelling state interest in the ban and that the ban was narrowly tailored, using the least restrictive means to achieve it.

A code ban would probably fail to meet this exacting standard. The government might conceivably have a compelling interest in prohibiting the manufacture of unregulated guns, but there are so many guns already being made that this argument isn’t a sure winner. . . .

You can already obtain the blueprints on the web: https://codeisfreespeech.com

And they have already been downloaded from Cody Wilson’s website:

Wilson already published 10 blueprints as of last Friday, including files for AR-15 style rifles and handguns. The AR-15 schematics alone have been downloaded thousands of times.

Here are some notes about the claim that these 3D printed guns are undetectable.

Maybe that means these aren’t as undetectable as the media has made them out to be?

Of course, they’re not. The ammunition is metal. The firing pin is metal. Often, the barrels are metal. All of these combine to make a weapon just as detectable as any other firearm. . . .

Time magazine has this explosive headline: “3D-Printed Guns Are Unchecked and Untraceable. And a Judge Blocked Them at the Last Minute.” See also this article at ABC News.

Yet another article from Time magazine notes:

The 3D-printed firearms, which are made mostly of plastic and can be constructed using blueprints available online, have sparked concern among gun control advocates that they could be undetectable by traditional means like metal detectors.

“TSA has determined that these items can — and have been — detected at the security checkpoint,” spokesperson Michelle Negron said in a statement to TIME. “Our officers are trained to look for and detect threats, including artfully concealed weapons, and through use of sophisticated technology, including Advanced Imaging Technology, can detect non-metallic items concealed on a passenger.” . . .

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