Two years ago entrepreneur and gun enthusiast Cody Wilson received a letter from the State Department demanding he take down his blueprints for the world's first 3D printed gun, the aptly named Liberator.
Now Wilson’s advocacy group, Defense Distributed, along with rights group the Second Amendment Foundation, have filed a lawsuit against the State Department and several of its officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, alleging their rights have been violated.
The timing behind the lawsuit shows it was carefully researched and is a well planned defense of the 2nd Amendment that looks into the future of what it means to own a firearm. The issues deal with gun regulations as well as freedom of speech.
In the complaint, filed Wednesday, the groups claim that the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), a State Department agency, violated their 1st amendment right to free speech by telling Mr Wilson that he couldn’t publish a file that contained designs for a single-shot plastic pistol, called the Liberator, as well as a collection of other printable gun parts, on its website.
The DDTC claimed Defense Distributed had violated arms export controls by posting the file online, much the same as if it shipped fully assembled firearms to Canada.
The specific laws it was alleged to have violated are called the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which govern how Americans sell arms and other military related gear, including advanced cryptography, to other countries. ITAR once banned the export of strong encryption algorithms to countries such as Iran and Russia.
The group’s lawsuit argues that irrespective of whether the Liberator is a weapon, its blueprints are “speech,” and that this speech is protected - online or offine. If the speech can be turned into a weapon with just a few clicks it would be similar to a chemical engineering textbook detailing how to make explosives - instructions don't make the weapon in other words.
“The internet is available worldwide, so posting something on the internet is deemed an export, and to [the State Department] this justifies imposing a prior restraint on internet speech,” says Alan Gura, the lawyer leading the lawsuit said to online magazine Wired. “That’s a vast, unchecked seizure of power over speech that’s not authorized by our constitution.”
“If code is speech, the constitutional contradictions are evident. So what if this code is a gun?” asks Cody Wilson, Defense Distributed’s founder. “Nothing can possibly stand in the way of this being disseminated to the people, and yet they insist on maintaining the power to do so.”
While Mr Wilson may seem like a provocateur, he actually dropped out of the University of Texas law school to run the firearms access group full time. He's passionate about the law behind his activities as much as the activities themselves, making him a formidable adversary for over-reaching government agencies intent on watering down the constitution.