3D Printing

Gunmaking CAD Files Free To Spread Around the Internet, 9th Circuit Rules

States had been trying to stop the Feds from loosening their hold on certain software, but the Appeals Court says they don't have that power


In a case that was already moot in the colloquial sense of the term if not the legal one, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday that an attempt by various states to stop the federal government from not restricting certain computer files can go no further. So for now, CAD files that can help instruct certain devices to make weapons at home can be legally spread into the public domain.

The history of the issues behind the case, State of Washington et al. v. State Department, is long and convoluted and embedded in arcane arguments about proper administrative procedure. What triggered the states to want to interfere in federal decisions was the result of a resolution in 2018 of a lawsuit from Defense Distributed, a company dedicated to the spread of gun-making software, founded by 3D weapon entrepreneur and provocateur Cody Wilson. In settling a case challenging their restrictions on such files, the government agreed to remove them from the control of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The states pretended they were fighting for public safety against the threat of computer-assisted homemade gun making. But their efforts were, at their core, an attempt to make the government continue constitutionally questionable policies restricting the free spread of information in the form of certain computer files, even though that information is obviously free to be spread through other means. For example, gun-making instructions in a book would obviously be legally protected expression.

But a district court had earlier issued an "order granting the motion of 22 states and the District of Columbia to enjoin [the State Department's] final rule removing 3D-printed guns and their associated files from the U.S. Munitions List."

As yesterday's decision explained, "The government used that broad discretion back in 2018 to shift control of the computer files in question from ITAR to CCL [Commerce Control List] under Commerce authority, and final rules regarding them were promulgated in January 2020."

The 9th Circuit panel decision this week, written by Judge Ryan D. Nelson, is not based on any of the important First Amendment questions implicated in earlier cases about the same overall issue—government power to prevent the spread of information under the guise of munitions control—but on the simple legal fact that the laws regarding these particular munition controls just don't allow for judicial rethinking of the agencies' decisions.

As the 9th Circuit wrote, "Congress precluded judicial review of both the designation and undesignation of items as defense articles…..The texts of both the Control Act and Reform Act demonstrate Congress's intent to preclude judicial review of both the DOS and Commerce Final Rules." Thus, "because both the DOS and Commerce Final Rules were unreviewable, the plaintiffs had not demonstrated the requisite likelihood of success on the merits, and therefore, a preliminary injunction was not merited. The panel remanded with instructions to dismiss."

The states were trying to argue that only adding items to the prohibited list is judicially unreviewable, while taking items off it, at issue here, should be reviewable. The 9th Circuit panel disagreed. In other words, the lower court erred in allowing the states to successfully challenge the new rules that allow, rightly, for the free spread of these files. It's worth remembering it was never about U.S. citizens having access to them, but the alleged threat of exporting the files to overseas persons, as that was, by prior ITAR theory, the equivalent of overseas arms proliferation. But the use of the Internet for such file spread makes restricting them to U.S. citizens more complicated.

This being the internet, attempts to suppress the spread of the files is impossible and trying to do so can only mean giving the government the power to harass specific parties from doing something everyone else can do and has been doing. While the company was not a party in this specific case, the legal history of attempts to punish people for spreading these files has been focused on one party, Defense Distributed.

Defense Distributed announced on their DEFCAD site that in light of this decision, U.S. law must be interpreted to "permit the limited and unlimited publication of our growing library of CAD, CAM, and other files. All CAD files are currently free to download. CAM data remains unconstitutionally controlled by the EAR [Commerce's Export Administration Regulations], and is restricted to US persons with DEFCAD accounts."

There is no way to actually stop the spread of such files, though that is not an argument the Court was relying on here. Such restrictions being on the books does give the government an extra tool with which to bash those it disapproves of.

The power to classify items as regulatable munitions is at "President's discretion," so the Biden administration could try to put certain computer files back on the list that puts them under ITAR authority or the Department of Commerce equivalent, but one wrinkle is that information or items already clearly in the public domain are supposed to be immune from that. Wilson at Defense Distributed is excited that with this week's decision, a space is created to get more and more such files out that barn door while it's open, which should limit the Biden administration's powers to cram them back in later should it want to try.

As DEFCAD's statement hinted, even under Commerce's new rule, it's not a complete free-for-all for gun-making files. Commerce still insists it can restrict software that "is ready for insertion into a computer numerically controlled machine tool, additive manufacturing equipment, or any other equipment that makes use of the 'software' or 'technology' to produce the firearm frame or receiver or complete firearm."

But Defense Distributed believes simple CAD files, not to mention such things as blueprints or instructional videos which were arguably restrictable under the old ITAR rules, are now officially liberated thanks to the 9th Circuit's decision yesterday.

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  1. gun-making instructions in a book would obviously be legally protected expression.


    1. I’m sure it also includes how to make a Cyber Ninja sword!

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  2. Not if the progressives keep ramming their retardation through

  3. Senile Joe’s agenda is stumbling up the stairs.

  4. That should kill off the NJ law banning possession of electronic (or hardopy) code for CAD guns.

    Fuck Phil Murphy and Gerbil Grewal.

    1. It should but it won’t. Even if it holds that possession of those files is legal, don’t bet they won’t twist it to suggest that possession of those files is suggestive that you’re able and willing to use those files to produce weapons that are illegal or an illegal dealer of sorts. I can think of multiple ways to write legislation that is merely meant to harass or intimidate citizens and I’m not even in the business of doing so. Legislation and the courts aren’t being used simply to determine policy anymore. They are being used to find end-runs and promote socio-political agendas. And nobody has more money to battle against these than the one organization that can legally print as much of it as it wants.

    2. It should but it won’t. This decision was based on administrative rules about how federal agencies make decisions. It has no bearing on whether or how states make decisions. It will take a case directly addressing the First Amendment issues to kill off that NJ law.

    3. As a fellow NJ prisoner (citizen), it’s going to take a lawsuit in the state of NJ as well as several appeals to the SCOTUS to reverse that law.

  5. I’m inclined to defend this as a fundamental right, even if I don’t intend to avail myself of it. But the freedom comes with a huge responsibility: the point of the 2A isn’t to defend just yourself, but your whole community, whether from a tyrannical government, a BLM mob, or even a bunch of insurrectionists. If you refuse and say, “Protect yourself, asshole” then don’t expect others to come to your defense on this issue. And you cede any justification to resort to violence or intimidation when a judge rules against you (or when a journalist reports on the ruling without flogging your pet issue).

    1. You’ve copy-pasted this comment at least once already today. You’re still wrong. While the point of the 2nd Amendment is to protect the community (for example, from a tyrannical government), you as an individual are under no obligation to participate in that protection on any given topic.

      Consider a 1st Amendment analogy. Congressman A says or does something incredibly stupid. You exercise your 1A rights to protest, blog and petition the government to oppose that stupid thing. I have no obligation to spend my time protesting, blogging or petitioning on your behalf. That remains true even if I also agree that Congressman A was incredibly stupid.

      You have a point about coming to the defense of others but a) Father Niemöller said it better and b) it’s a normative goal, not an obligation.

      1. You are still wrong. As long as you repudiate your responsibility to protect the community with the rights the community grants you at a dear cost, then don’t expect the fence-sitters to come to your defense.

        But thanks for clearly ceding any justification to intimidate or threaten judges or journalists when they express opinions contrary to yours on this issue.

        1. “ As long as you repudiate your responsibility to protect the community with the rights the community grants you at a dear cost”

          Way to show you don’t understand what a right is. Rights are inherent and not granted to us by any government or community. You just described a privilege. If the “community grants” me something it naturally flows it can revoke it.

          1. LOL thanks for convincing fence-sitters that handguns are a privilege not a right. And that you have no excuse to resort to violence or insurrection when a judge rules against you. Feel free to dig yourself in deeper:

            1. Or you could learn reading comprehension skills. You are the one arguing owning a gun is a privilege granted to us by the “community”. I just pointed out your definition of a right is not correct, and your definition actually refers to a privilege (ie driving).

              Anyone with basic reading skills can easily deduce from the Bill of RIGHTS (emphasis added to assist you) that gun ownership is an enumerated right under the constitution.

              1. Yes it is a privilege granted to us by the community – so that you can protect us. If you think you can spurn that responsibility and insult and intimidate people into defending it as your unquestioned right, then you will fail miserably. They’ll take their chances with the government.

                1. Well since apparently rights don’t exist in your world, they’re all privileges granted by the community…

                  I, as a member of the community that grants you the right to free speech, have revoked your right, sorry privilege, of free speech.

                  Enjoy your fascist/authoritarian world where everything you do must be approved by the ruling class.

                  1. You never defended my right to free speech in the first place.

                    But thanks at least for exposing your agenda. Your right/privilege is on borrowed time. And you have only yourself to blame.

        2. The community does not grant rights.

      2. “While the point of the 2nd Amendment is to protect the community…”

        100% untrue. Historically and even in current court rulings. Just because the thought exists in your mind doesn’t make it true.

    2. There’s a deterrent aspect as well.

      A totalitarian government probably can’t fulfill their plans until they disarm us. If you’re one of the 100 million Americans who own one of the 300 million guns in circulation, you’re part of the deterrent regardless of whether you come together with other like-minded individuals.

      1. And that helps protect the community. 🙂

    3. No it isn’t.

      There are no collective rights nor rights for collectives.

      Next you’ll be trying to tell us the 2nd only applies to state militias.

      1. Obviously gun ownership is a privilege so that we can protect not just ourselves but each other. No fence-sitters would grant you that privilege if you spurn your responsibility and insult and belittle them. And when a judge rules against you, you have only yourself to blame.

        1. No one granted me the privilege.

        2. “Obviously gun ownership is a privilege…”

          Clearly you don’t realize it’s a right.

      2. I understand the sentiment, but that simply is not true in the US. Corporations, for example, have rights. They are a collective of the various stakeholders in them.

        1. Corporations do not have rights. JFC. Corporations have a limited set of privileges granted by a government.

          Next you’ll be saying patents and copyrights are rights.

          1. Actually, to some extent they are. Burden is always on the government to show why you are not entitled to (at least) a patent. The USPTO is pretty good at finding reasons, of course, and yes, does cheat a bit. But the presumption is still there, as it must be (otherwise the applicants would have to prove a negative).

    4. Some would argue that fundamental First Amendment rights should include a duty to not post such batshit stupid things as you have written here. Be glad that those arguments are wrong.

  6. Good.
    But it is a silly gun.

  7. But Dr Seuss still banned?

  8. The funny thing is, progressives never actually have a job where they make anything.
    Except soy lattes.
    So the only thing they can think of when it comes to making your own gun is using a 3-D printer.
    When in fact it is childishly easy to make a fully automatic sub machine gun with parts from a hardware store.
    So they go after CAD files and ignore the anarchist cookbook

    1. FGC-9. C stands for control. The rest is obvious. Some 3d printing used but can be substituted using other measures and I’m pretty sure it can be selective fire too.

  9. That’s awesome.

    This might speak to Biden’s ban on grind your own gun at home kits, too.

    1. If only it also affected bump stocks. “Bump and Grind Declared Legal”

  10. The noisy subtext is, the Feds will do it instead of the states.

  11. So is an en-banc appeal coming down the lane? Seems to me that the 9th circuit flip-flops between 3 judge panels and en-banc more often than the en-banc gets reversed by SCOTUS.

  12. Speaking of the first amendment, what are the odds Reason ever touches the now-documented collusion between the California secretary of state’s office and social media companies to censor information?

    jUSt sTaRT yoUR oWN sEcREtARy oF sTAte!!!!!!!

  13. I used to work for a CAD company. Part of our strategy was to develop an ecosystem of applications around our product. One type of application takes a standard 3D model and turns it into instructions for a machine. I can give you something that renders as a picture of a gun and you can make the legally restricted CNC instructions yourself. Personally I would rather mill than 3D print the high pressure parts, chamber and barrel.

    1. I think that is the question in the future. Currently, milling and drilling results in a markedly stronger part. But that is now, and, in particular, for the average individual. Defense Distributed Sells a computer controlled milling (and drilling) machine that takes 80% complete parts and completes. It would just take more time and bits to turn, say, a piece of aluminum and into the same part (such as an AR-15 lower receiver). I expect that, by now, very high end incremental manufacturing of the high pressure (etc) parts to be feasible – just not yet economical.

      The key, all around, is the 3-D model, and from that you can generate the part through milling, 3-D incremental manufacturing, etc using fairly standard software. You can, of course, digitally scan the part. But in the case of an AR-15 (or, at least a select fire M16), you don’t even need to do that – the official engineering drawings from the DOD have long been available in electronic form, and are, by now, widely distributed, at least in this country (I do seem to remember some ITAR hoops that I had to jump through when I downloaded a copy).

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