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Cody Wilson is the man behind Defense Distributed. They’re the folks that pioneered one of the first 3D-printable firearms, the “Liberator.” When they first released the gun, the CAD files that allow anyone with a 3D printer to make a copy of the gun were hosted directly on their servers and freely available to the public. The U.S. Government predictably freaked out, and the State Department sent Mr. Wilson a nice letter demanding he remove those files from the internet or face a hefty fine and jail time for violating ITAR regulations (originally designed to keep high-tech military weapons out of the hands of hostile governments) . . .

For two years, Cody has been waiting for a response to his challenge to their letter. During that time, the files have still been widely available — just not on Defense Distributed’s website. Because you can’t stop the signal.

Now it seems Cody has had enough and is suing the State Department government to lift their restrictions, and has Alan Gura of the Second Amendment Foundation as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation backing him up.

This isn’t the first time that the .gov has used ITAR regulations to try and block technology from leaking online that keeps them awake at night, drenched in sweat. Back in the early days of the internet, the government tried to use those same regs to keep strong encryption methods from being used around the world, preferring everyone to use insecure communications so as to make the NSA’s job easier. In a strikingly similar court case of Bernstein v. U.S. DOJ, the court ruled that the code was considered “speech” and protected under the 1st Amendment.

As a brief recap of the events, we turn to the New York Times:

The case began in May 2013, when Mr. Wilson, who was then in law school at the University of Texas, got a letter from the State Department informing him that by posting his files online he may have violated a complicated set of federal rules, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which seek to prevent the export of sensitive military hardware, including weapons technology.

The letter, from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, a State Department office, told him to take the files down while officials reviewed whether he needed a license to disseminate what it referred to as “defense articles.”

Mr. Wilson, 27, claims he spent thousands of dollars over the next two years on lawyers who helped him file paperwork in an effort to comply with the regulations, which are known as ITAR. When the State Department did not make a decision in that time on whether he needed a license, he came to believe he was being singled out for scrutiny — in part because his files were published not long after the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut in which 26 people, many of them children, were killed.

Worried that he was being thrust into a kind of legal limbo, Mr. Wilson filed suit, asking for judicial permission to repost his files and seeking damages.

His claim is that the suppression of his files constitutes a prior restraint violation of his 1st Amendment rights, as well as the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans to keep and bear arms.

While this argument will be decided in court, some First Amendment experts said the lawsuit was a trailblazing foray into free speech law and, at the least, raised legitimate concerns.

“I can’t think of anything quite analogous,” said Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer. “But on the face of it, it seems to me like a serious claim.”

With the EFF, the SAF and Alan Gura behind him, he’s got at least a fighting chance.

The full complaint can be seen here.

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41 Responses to First Protecting the Second: Cody Wilson, SAF Sue the State Department

  1. Wait no. That needs to be illegal.

    Don’t you know that people will spend hundreds of dollars on a 3D printer and learn how to use it instead of buying a stolen Hi-Point?

    • Careful, all the Hi-point defender are going to come out of the woodwork and swear its not a criminal’s gun and call you a classist for not saying that criminals are more likely to use an HK or a Wilson Combat.

      • But… it’s kind of true.

        I met plenty of folks in the WV/OH area who didn’t own a single gun that cost more than $200 dollars. I also saw a guy at the range with a Hi Point who shot pretty well.

        Some of you need to get over yourselves. Not everyone fetishizes guns (not talking about me – I definitely dress mine up).

        • The HI-Point weapons are out there for a reason. They are constructed and priced the way they are for a reason. That reason is Hi-Point can manufacture and sell them at reasonable prices and no one can complain that they don’t have access to a firearm based on price. Yes, they are $250.00. No, not everyone in this country can afford even a $500.00 GLOCK or $700.00 SIg. YES, I own two different Hi-Points and am a Hi-Point defender based on the inexplicable hate they recieve. NO, I’m not a criminal.

        • I’d argue that a 30+ year old 38/357 is a typical criminal gun. A Hi-Point is a step up. And a Glock is like the holy grail of functional handguns.

    • lay off the Hi-points. Revolvers n glocks are top 2 guns, followed by Beretta and 1911s. hi-point has been used in this latest case and a few dozen others vs thousands using the Dirt cheap Used Black Market pistols. you cant put one in your pants or jacket, Criminals go for cheap common firearms… 99% are stolen military n police surplus weapons. private/dealer sales or stolen private firearms are less then 1% of total crimes.

      please get your facts straight, spelling n writing skills optional… lol

  2. Unless Cody has a contract with DOD for the Liberator, State can take ITAR and shove it somewhere painful.

    I’ve worked in ITAR-regulated environments. Knowing how those environments work, it is obvious that State is merely using the threat of ITAR violations as a specious ploy to infringe upon his free speech rights.

    • ITAR applies whether or not you’re doing work for the DoD. The State Dept has a legitimate claim against Cody, it’s simply that he should be protected under the 1A. (Using the 2A as a defense in this case was probably not a great move, even if it drums up money.)

      • Yes, I understand the scope. But Cody isn’t manufacturing or exporting arms. He created drawings. Those drawings aren’t related to anything that he is manufacturing, or that could potentially be exported. Those drawings aren’t related to anything specifically designed, developed, configured, adapted, or modified for military or intelligence use. In fact, the Liberator is rather conclusively limited to civilian use. Cody is not in the business of exporting defense articles. If Cody had a contract to provide DoD with Liberators, then State could argue that ITAR applies.

        That was the point I was trying to make. Perhaps I should have worded it differently originally.

        Now, if he can 3-D print a Ma Deuce, and is distributing the drawings/plans? That’s a different matter.

        Also, insofar as ITAR violates first-amendment rights, it is null and void. But I’m really not sure there’s a first amendment argument here. There was an obvious first amendment argument with respect to encryption technology. But here? I dunno.

        • The liberator can be related to intelligence use… just like it’s namesake was.

        • Manufacturing drawings or schematics used to manfacture weapons or arms are indeed considered “exports” as part of the ITAR. Shit, sending myself an “ITAR-regulated” file from a US server while on Foreign soil is considered an ITAR Export.

          His claim that it is covered under the 1st amendment might apply as he’s not making money doing so, we shall see.

        • ITAR covers technical schematics, too. It’s not just finished products. The rest of your “exemptions” do not exist within the law. Cory unambiguously violated ITAR… we’ll see if the courts will accept his defense (they should!).

        • An export under ITAR can be as inoccuous as a few words of conversation with a foreign national. Something like a CAD/CAM file is pretty substantive by comparison. And there’s lots of gray area when it comes to software and similar items. Until the late ’90s encryption related technology was a hot-button item, and one of the more popular ways to protest was to print lines of encryption code on t-shirts and wear them overseas.

  3. It’s scary how much power the gov has when you see how blatantly ignorant it is. Witch trials never really stopped. It’s all hocus pocus, irrational fear and drownings.

    • The people in the agencies that violate the rights of people like Cody Wilson have no dis-incentive to not do this. They just violate peoples rights left and right, and it takes a huge effort for their victims to defend themselves. Meanwhile, if the government loses, no-one gets fired, no-one gets even a slap on the wrist. They get their promotions and disgustingly lavish taxpayer-financed pensions no matter how many people they victimize.

    • Prior goes with restraint in this case not with “a”. “A priori” makes no sense in this context, “prior restraint” does.

  4. So the Government is afraid of single shot pistols when we all have “military-style,” “high-powered” “assault rifles?” The need to control knows no bounds.

    • It’s paradoxical. They don’t want plans to allow the manufacturing of single shot pistols, yet I can go buy a black powder revolver, that can fire six shots and kill just as easily as this or any modern pistol, without a background check.

    • They’re playing the long game here. Nobody in the gov’t is really scared of Cody’s little pop gun. They’re absolutely freakin’ terrified, however, that it heralds a coming era when gun control isn’t just ridiculously ineffective, but totally impossible. 3D printing technology is primitive and crude today, compared to what it’ll be able to do in a decade or two. Hence, the government is scrambling to find ways to establish precedents for shutting this sort of thing down. It won’t do them any good, but statists gotta state.

      Sure, a skilled machinist or even just a decently mechanically-inclined person with the right tools and materials has always been able make a gun, 3D-printing technology means anyone who can download, point, and click can have the capability to knock out a functioning firearm in a few hours.

      • More like a day or two depending on size. These types of designs require 100% infill to maintain integrity and multiple shells. This exponentially increases print time for even small parts.

        • On today’s machines, yes. But just like desktop printers are routinely 10-20 times faster today that they were in the 90s, build times will decrease, quality of the finished product will increase, ease of use will increase, material strength will improve, costs will come down, etc. Just give it a few years, and today’s machines will be hopelessly outclassed by the next generation.

      • point is “Criminals” will just go to buddy on corner and get a gun….

        citizens should be able to make anything they want for their own personal use. as for “ghost” or Undetectable firearms… they are more likely to not work or blowup vs kill anyone. no known plastic can handle the forces of calibers beyond a 22lr round. well their are couple but they are composites that cost massive $ and cant be used in a 3D printer.

        metal n ceramic printers cost as much as a new car. still the materials are not stable enough.

        guns use Forged metals for barrels. even a printed metal barrel will shatter after a few shots. explode if anything jams aka “Grenade” with lots of flying pieces of metal.

        its cheaper easier and 100% to just finish an 80% frame or lower.

        3D printing is ideal for accessories, Grips, and cosmetic parts.

        this is all about controling civilians not stopping Crime or Criminals

        being a metal smith sense the 80s and having acces to all 3 kinds of 3D printing. what they fear is a joke. anyone wanting covert single shot would buy/make one of dozen already out their. as for the common person, they are more concerned with missing a TV show or picking up the kids.

  5. So if I take my AR down into all of its base components and post pictures of it online, am I violating ITAR?

  6. If I recall correctly, a key point in the encryption case was that the encryption algorithm can be represented in traditionally protected free speech articles such as printing it out.

    A technical drawing or spec sheet I think easily meets that same set of criteria. They could always just print out the step file on paper like they did with the encryption algorithm and hopefully be covered that way but, a step file doesn’t really have a hard copy equivalent and makes the argument more challenging.

  7. … yet the government itself acted to export firearms during Fast and Furious etc. without following the process with the state department…

  8. Has the NRA ever commented on this? One of the big attacks I see about the NRA is that they don’t care about gun owners, just gun makers and sellers. Taking a stand here would help make the statement that protecting owners and their rights is first and foremost in all things.

    Plus, it would combine two of my big charities (the EFF is well loved in our house) in one great purpose.

    • “they don’t care about gun owners, just gun makers and sellers”

      Media-driven claptrap. If that view is held by many actual gun owners, it’s probably due to the fact that the NRA does a lot of work behind the scenes in cases such as these.

    • The NRA is an easy target because it’s got a lot of money and makes a lot of public appearances. Attach “evil industry” to it and it makes it easier to use emotional rhetoric than a factual, informed argument. The NSSF is the ACTUAL lobbying arm for the gun industry.

  9. I said it before and will say it again….Alan Gura is a modern day superhero. I think that this one guy alone has done more in the past 10 years than the entirety of the NRA.

  10. Looks like the production of Cody Wilson’s next 3d printable gun will be subsidised by the US government…. Awesome!

  11. Glad to see SAF helping him out.

    On a sad note, the SAF suit to bring efforts against the Bloomberg purchased WA State I-594 was chosen not to be seen by the presiding Judge. The Judge said someone would need to be arrested under the law first, then he could decide constitutionality. SAF said, WHAT?!

    I’d suggest the Judge was a bit bias on the progressive left side.

    Join SAF if possible to help them help us all.

  12. Can you give more details on the EFF involvement? in the linked pdf, only Cody and the 2A foundation are mentioned as complaint.

    The link for EFF only resolves to their home page, noting specific about pursuing this initiative.

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