The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that designs of firearms to be used on 3D printers are not protected by the free speech provisions of the First Amendment. The court, siding with the State Department, found that such designs could constitute an export, given the lack of borders on the Internet, and as such would pose a danger to national security.
And this is the key problem with the court’s ruling and the State Department’s policy. Trying to keep designs for firearms off the Internet is a fool’s errand. Guns are a mature technology. Their parts are easy to make, even for hipsters, and many firearms are no longer under patent. Notice how it seems that every handgun manufacturer offers an M1911, a polymer-framed and striker-fired Wonder Nine, and something that fits in a pocket? Even if we believe that the blueprint of a handgun poses a national security threat—and that’s an extraordinary claim—it’s too late now. We might as well say that the internal combustion engine is too sensitive to let people see.
I can see why 3D printing gives control freaks the vapors. It’s an expression of potential—potential that isn’t constrained in advance and that may not even reach the awareness of those who yearn to meddle in the actions of others. Such printers are expensive today and limited in the materials that they use, but imagine where we could be in the not too distant future. A 3D printer is a realization of the replicators featured in Star Trek, and when we can make everything from screws to hip joints to interplanetary shuttles in the convenience of our own homes, regulators and manufacturers will have to offer us something better than what we can make ourselves if they expect us to act as they wish.
Distributed power is a dangerous choice, but it’s the only way to make a free society work. And it’s futile to attempt to call back secrets that have circled the world at the speed of light more times already than the agents of our government can count. It would be grand to see this bad ruling overturned by the Supreme Court, though I don’t have high hopes for that, but such a result isn’t necessary. This is a ruling over the permitted type of harness for carriages while jet planes roar overhead.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.
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