Can a country that claims to have free speech and a right to bear arms forbid communications about how to make a gun? Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed, along with the Second Amendment Foundation, in May filed a federal lawsuit in Texas to establish that the answer is "no."
In May 2013, the State Department ordered Wilson, under threat of prosecution for illegally exporting munitions, to remove files from his servers that contain instructions for making the plastic pistol his organization had designed. Wilson complied, but he believes putting software on the Internet that helps a 3D printer make a fragile plastic pistol should be protected under both the First and Second Amendments. Definitions of what munitions export laws actually forbid are slippery, though. Years later, the State Department still has not told him authoritatively whether that software is actually an illegal munition under International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
As Wilson's lawyer Alan Gura says, "If you have the right to keep arms, you should be able to make" arms—and "if you have the right to make firearms, you have the right to acquire information useful to you in doing that." But the State Department, in new rules proposed in June, tried to codify its belief that because foreigners can access the Internet, putting non-classified information online about weapons making should in fact be considered a munitions "export."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "3D Censorship".