3D-printed Firearms Designer Sues Federal Government


It is now roughly two years since Cody Wilson released the plans for the “Liberator” pistol, a single-shot .380 handgun that is believed to be the world’s first fully 3D-printed firearm. The blueprints for the Liberator were posted online free of charge and were downloaded more than 100,000 times before the US Department of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) stepped in and removed the files.

At the time, federal officials claimed that the availability of the blueprints, which allowed anybody with the proper 3D printer to manufacture their own copy of the Liberator, ran afoul of a set of regulations known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR regulates the export and import of weapons in the United States, which Wilson was accused of violating when he put up the files for the handgun online, where it could be downloaded anywhere in the world.

Wilson, however, said that the files he put online were not just the blueprints for a gun, it is also constitutionally protected free speech. Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, recently filed a lawsuit against the State Department, naming Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials as defendants. Wilson is now also being backed by a powerful new ally: the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), which is also included in the lawsuit.

“Defense Distributed appears to be caught in what seems to be a bureaucratic game of merry-go-round,” SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb said in a press release. “The right to keep and bear arms includes the ability to acquire or create arms. The government is engaging in behavior that denies the company due process under the Fifth Amendment. We’re compelled to file this action because the bureaucracy is evidently playing games and it’s time for these agencies to behave.”

Wilson and SAF claim that the State Department is using ITAR to censor information related to 3D-printed firearms, and violated Wilson’s First Amendment right to free speech. The lawsuit is asking for, among other things, an order against the State Department to allow Wilson to publish the Liberator files, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The plaintiffs’ litigation team will be led by attorney Alan Gura, who had led the charge on many gun-related cases in the past, such as the ongoing legal battle against restrictive gun laws in Washington, DC.

“Americans have always been free to exchange information about firearms and manufacture their own arms,” said Gottlieb. “We also have an expectation that any speech regulations be spelled out clearly, and that individuals be provided basic procedural protections if their government claims a power to silence them.”

Over the past two years, Wilson has continued his advocacy for both free speech and gun rights. His longstanding argument and the philosophy behind Defense Distributed is that information should be free and available for all. Wilson is now working on manufacturing and distributing a personal CNC mill that can complete 80 percent AR-15 lower receivers. Wilson said he submitted the machine to the State Department for review. The DDTC responded that while the CNC mill itself may not be subject to government jurisdiction, the software behind the machine might.

“Defense Distributed believed, and continues to believe, that the United States Constitution guarantees a right to share truthful speech,” the lawsuit stated. “Especially speech concerning fundamental constitutional rights in open forums.”

Both gun rights and free speech advocates have said that the lawsuit is nearly unprecedented.

“My [act of free] speech was inconvenient and politically ill-timed,” Wilson told The New York Times. “But I’m prideful, and I intend to fight.

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