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Free Minds & Free Markets

Gun Control Becomes Speech Control

People appalled by Cody Wilson’s firearm fabrication software tend to forget about the First Amendment.

In a recent editorial demanding censorship of legal, unclassified information about firearms, The Washington Post mentioned freedom of speech in passing but immediately dismissed its relevance.

That's par for the course among gun controllers terrified by the thought of Americans using 3D printers or computerized milling machines to make firearms with the help of software provided by Defense Distributed. People who are convinced that the Austin, Texas, company's computer code will "put carnage a click away" (as the Post put it) tend to overlook the fact that they have moved from regulating guns to regulating speech.

Last week, when a federal judge in Seattle told Defense Distributed to stop uploading its files, his seven-page temporary restraining order did not address the First Amendment implications at all. But Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson, whom The New York Times tellingly describes as a "professed gun-rights and free-speech advocate," has emphasized the First Amendment angle from the beginning of his legal battle with the State Department over its attempt to suppress gun design files as unapproved munition exports.

Wilson's project, which seems designed to make gun controllers' heads explode, is deliberately provocative. But his constitutional argument is based on four well-accepted principles of First Amendment law.

First, computer code is speech. As Wilson noted in his lawsuit against the State Department, several federal appeals courts have reached that conclusion. The expressive aspect of software is especially prominent in this case, where the code has an explicitly political purpose.

Second, prior restraint of speech is presumptively unconstitutional. The Supreme Court confirmed that rule in the landmark 1971 Pentagon Papers case, where it rejected the Nixon administration's attempt to stop newspapers from publishing articles based on a classified history of the Vietnam War.

Third, content-based speech restrictions are subject to strict scrutiny. That means the government has to show its policy is "narrowly tailored" to serve a "compelling" state interest.

Fourth, speech cannot be banned merely because it might facilitate crime. While someone who is legally disqualified from owning guns could use a Defense Distributed file to produce one, for instance, there is nothing inherently criminal about making firearms at home.

The State Department, which viewed online publication of gun design software as tantamount to export, conceded that the very same information would be constitutionally protected in the form of a book or a lecture. But it maintained that posting the information on the internet was a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Although the Post editorial said Wilson "lost at every stage of litigation," none of the decisions was based on the merits of his First Amendment claims. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld a federal judge's refusal to issue the preliminary injunction that Wilson sought, the two judges in the majority viewed the lower court's discussion of the free speech issue as "dicta," meaning it did not figure in the result.

The 5th Circuit declined to address the First Amendment questions at that stage, to the dismay of dissenting Judge Edith Jones. She thought it plain that "the State Department's application of its 'export' control regulations to this domestic Internet posting…violates the First Amendment as a content-based regulation and a prior restraint."

Last month the State Department settled the case, abandoning its bid to stop Defense Distributed from posting its files. That cause has now been taken up by various state governments, which sought the restraining order that U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued last week.

Although Lasnik's order hinges on arcane questions of administrative law, the case is still "about free speech," as the Los Angeles Times editorial board, notwithstanding its support for stricter gun laws, acknowledges. "We don't like this use of 3-D printing technology," the Times says. "But we also jealously guard the 1st Amendment."

People who care about freedom of speech should be able to recognize that Cody Wilson is trying to exercise it, regardless of how they feel about guns.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • LeaveTrumpAloneLiberal-tarian||

    I fail to see how this story about people wanting to spend a couple grand in order to build something that will probably blow their dick off promotes the Glory and Happiness of Trump. Can someone explain how that's accomplished here please? ALL HAIL TRUMP AND HIS MASSIVE COCK!!

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    Shhhh... go back to sleep.

  • Quixote||

    I'm just waking up. How silly can they get? Inappropriately deadpan "satire" is a form of "speech." But it is a form of speech that we really don't like, and when it is uttered with the intent to "damage a reputation," it poses a severe threat to public order and security and is thus a crime punishable by jail. See the documentation at

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    Similarly, plastic-gun software can seem downright dangerous and hence deserves to be regulated. On the other hand, our laws are poorly written and are meant to be randomly enforced, so if enough people like this form of speech, what the heck, let them make them there plastic guns as much as they like. That way they can all defend themselves against the terrorists armed with the same plastic guns. At least we will be rid of "parody."

  • Naaman Brown||

    The article does not mention Trump or his private parts.

    Can we spell Trump Derangement Syndrome, boys and girls?

    L e a v e T r u m p A l o n e L i b e r a l t a r i a n

    Very good!

  • LeaveTrumpAloneLiberal-tarian||

    Have I not admitted my obsession with the Glorious One?Yes, I'm deranged... deranged for his massive cock, that is. I want to feel his white creamy load all over my mantits and then rub it all over my penis dildo. Just like you guys!

  • Tionico||

    pervert

  • tlapp||

    Apparently you have the same fetish for Trump as Marco Rubio

  • TxJack 112||

    All Wilson did was show that making a 3D printed gun is possible. No one has said it is practical or even wise. Personally, I agree. The danger is too great and also the design for the "plastic gun" is a one shot gun. There is no indication it has a rifled barrel which means it is not accurate and unless you are a expert shot, it is actually a plastic rock because throwing it will be your only defense after you fire your one shot. The real issue is the attempt to regulate speech and that should bother everyone.

  • T. Lord||

    The thing is, "3D printed" is a moving target, and a catch-all term that is close enough for some but not all parts of this discussion. Yes, the Liberator would in use quickly become a "plastic rock" (ha!), but the controversy is about more that that one, and more than about additive printing at home and as-currently-practiced.

    It's also about things like the GhostGunner, which have suddenly raised hackles even though CNC machines are not new, and the instructions to control them thankfully not generally illegal.

    And while I don't give the antis here much credit as visionaries, the fact is that materials and printing capabilities are improving, so the idea that (even a purely) additive-printed gun must be a one-shot joke may not last long. Maybe they're just anticipating those improvements in feverish nightmares.

    (And materials improvements, and greater precision, count even when it's not a "complete death-oriented gun magically spat from a plastic nozzle" -- adding a length of pipe as a barrel, for instance, would also be made easier as the designs and materials get better.)

  • IceTrey||

    One shot is all you need. Shoot a guy with a real gun and take his.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I had a feeling this fucktard would be back on this thread after unsuccessfully attempting to troll a similar story from yesterday.

  • LeaveTrumpAloneLiberal-tarian||

    Thanks to the swooning of women over Trump's massive penis the Republican Party just won an election by 1% in a district where it won by 37% in 2016. What an amazing charismatic and beautiful leader.[Jumping up and down] Oh thank you, Dear Leader... thank you. Teeheehee

  • The Last American Hero||

    Returning a Republican to the House = Blue Wave, which according to the Seattle Times is now a Blue Tsunami.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Some kind of weird low-quality cross between Hihn and OpenBorderLiberaltarian.

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    I'm thinking someone off their meds.

  • perlchpr||

    Nah, it's almost certainly not that interesting.

    Now, the question becomes, are they sincerely trying to be the "flipside" OBL, and failing miserably, or are they intentionally doing a shitty job, to make some sort of other artistic point?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Now, the question becomes, are they sincerely trying to be the "flipside" OBL, and failing miserably, or are they intentionally doing a shitty job, to make some sort of other artistic point?

    My guess is the former. I doubt it's possible to deliberately fuck up that badly. The question I have is, is this new troll one of our existing progressive trolls trying a new shtick, or is this a new troll?

    As much as I'm annoyed by OBL (his act has gotten stale), he's probably the most entertaining of our resident trolls as long as you're in on the joke that it's all a parody act. And, he's gotten some commenters, even a few regulars, to engage with him as if he's sincere. That's usually a pretty good indicator that you're doing good parody/ satire.

    This new troll is a no talent hack. Ooh, Trump supporters are obsessed with the size of "Dear Leader's" dick ... must have taken all of 2 seconds to come up with that stroke of philosophic genius.

  • marshaul||

    It's pretty bad, but OBL was stale from the first post. I would argue that satire is intrinsically "fail" when you attempt to parody a person/perspective which exists exclusively in your own head.

    So OBL is himself some form of pointless, self-referential masturbatory stream of consciousness performance art.

  • JesseAz||

    If you read the research of Prof haidt from uva you'll see that most liberals are incapable of understanding the arguments of their opponents. He'll, look at miss Alexandria, they often don't understand their own arguments. Because of his company ignorance on the matter, this troll is unable to subtlety argue his opponents position in a hyperbolic manner like OBL can. Basically we have a new retard. The hihn Obl off spring is a pretty good summary.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Haidt is at NYU now. But he's still awesome. Every libertarian that has an interest in persuading others to Libertarianism should read The Righteous Mind.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    They haven't forgotten free speech. Abolishing that is on their to-do list, too.

    This really reminds me of Operation Choke Point, except that THAT was covert, and supposedly shut down when exposed. (Rumors are it just went under deeper cover and continued.) While this is being done right out in the open.

    This is just civil war by other means. Denying the enemy access to financial services, communications services, and any other necessity of modern life they can.

    It is not, I suspect, going to be confined to other means for very much longer. If you can even say it is now, what with the Antifa running around assaulting people.

  • JesseAz||

    It's not shut down. It's just state level now. See Cuomo threatening business who may work with nra.

  • The Last American Hero||

    They fret about free speech when the Donald says CNN is full of shit, but want nothing to do with free speech when it comes to Free Speech/Protest Zones, Safe Spaces, Facebook, Twitter, or making movies that are unflattering to Hillary Clinton.

  • MikeP2||

    Its less about the first than it is about the second. Anyone with basic skills can make a better firearm with junk from the hardware store and the information to do so is widely available. No one questions this.
    The only reason anyone is agonizing over 3d printing is because they want to ban anything gun related, but cant find a solid arguement to do so in this situation.

  • Bob Meyer||

    I don't think that gun control is the end in this case. It's the means to establish prior restraint of speech.

    You'll never get rid of the 300 million guns in the US, they were manufactured and acquired well in the past, but speech control is for the future and that is achievable.

  • Ron||

    true considering how the left now considers some speech as violence, then speaking of guns must be the most violent of speech hence we can silence it.

  • DarrenM||

    They should just focus on banning 3D printers altogether with no mention of guns. It won't be long before someone uploads the code to make a nuclear bomb, then where will we be?

  • Rossami||

    That horse has been out of the barn for a very long time, DarrenM. I've had a reference text with just that information on my shelf since I was an undergrad physics major. I'm sure you could find a half-dozen websites with basically the same information in under 2 minutes of googling. (Though it might take a bit longer to figure out which of those sites have correct information.)

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    > Anyone with basic skills can make a better firearm with junk from the hardware store and the information to do so is widely available. No one questions this.

    But can they get it through a metal detector? 3D printed gun, with a bullet by the big toe inside ones steel toed boots ....

  • Tionico||

    Get real.. how many sizes too big will that boot have to be? If they were that big, someone inspecting more closely because of the metal hit will surely wonder why a guy with size eight feet is wearing a pair of size fourteen boots.

    To do what you are wanting to do, one ought to design/fabricate a pair of heavy workboots capable of firing that one round through a barrel cast into the outsole, which is often quite thick with work boots, logger or smoke jumper boots...... or a metal-lined walking cane or perhaps even a part of a wheelchair.

    You see the problem is never with the arrow.. its always with the indian. Never hardware, always the software.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    We have a couple of generations of people who are now largely divorced from any notion of working with physical things. Phones are mostly non-repairable, you are discouraged from working on your car, it's usually cheaper to replace an appliance than repair it. Meals are generally just a phone call away or you subscribe to a delivery service.

    Is there any real wonder that increasingly words are seen as equivalent to physical things?

  • Longtobefree||

    "People who are convinced that the Austin, Texas, company's computer code will "put carnage a click away" (as the Post put it) tend to overlook the fact that they have moved from regulating guns to regulating speech."

    Not overlook.
    This is the segue where they will now include open attacks on the first as well as the second amendments. Just as planned all along. They followed the book so far, and it is working.
    "they" is the full spectrum of liberty hating political thought from general democrats through communists.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "they" is the full spectrum of liberty hating political thought from general democrats through communists.

    To be fair, there's plenty of liberty hating Republicans too. John McCain (is he dead yet?), Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell... pretty much every member of Congress except a hand full of exceptions.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    " from general democrats through communists."

    A distinction increasingly without a difference, especially when you realize that stripped of it's theoretical trappings Communism is just another excuse for rule by a largely meritless elite.

  • Naaman Brown||

    "put carnage a click away"

    Actually carnage requires an actor with motive and intent far more than it requires a particular means.
    Especially since the 3D printed gun requires a lot of equipment and some expertise and is therefore self-limiting as a source of means.

    Google DIY do-it-yourself guns. Pay attention to DIY from Sweden, Israel, India, Australia. You can build a MAC10, Sten or Swedisk K type submachine gun in an ordinarily equipped home workshop or garage without a computer or 3D printer.

    Imagine the Dry Forces going crazy over internet files on making home brew.
    Drunken debauchery and sin just a click away! Drunkenness is the major cause of violence! We must do something now!!
    That's what I am seeing in this.

  • TxJack 112||

    This claim is no different than those made when states passed concealed carry, open carry and campus carry laws. It is the same as you hear now whenever the subject of arming teachers comes up. They use the very same claims even though there is no evidence to prove they are true but rather more evidence to prove they are not.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Imagine the Dry Forces going crazy over internet files on making home brew.

    Let's not give anyone ideas.

  • Rich||

    a "compelling" state interest

    "National security, then."

  • Rich||

    there is nothing inherently criminal about making firearms at home.

    "Close the at-home loophole!"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ha, professed rights advocate. A negative epithet the Times would hate to suffer.

  • TxJack 112||

    The move within our courts and government to control speech is growing. Facebook banning Alex Jones' FB page for "hate speech" yet allowing Louis Farrakhan's page to remain is a good example of the problem regulating speech. Democrats in the Senate led by Mark Warner have written a white paper calling for government regulation of the internet to stop "hate speech and fake news". Sen. Chris Murphy said the banning of Jones by FB was not enough and "just the tip of the iceberg". The movement within Congress and the Courts to control and ban certain types of speech should scare the hell out of everyone. If it doesn't, you are an idiot.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    People who are convinced that the Austin, Texas, company's computer code will "put carnage a click away" (as the Post put it) tend to overlook the fact that they have moved from regulating guns to regulating speech.

    I doubt they overlook the fact that they've gone from regulating guns to regulating speech, more like they see it this issue as a good excuse to do what they've been itching to do for decades. After all, the Venn Diagram of "people who are in favor of gun control" and "people who are in favor of regulating speech" is probably very nearly two overlapping circles.

  • Ron||

    If you control either one you control the other. they are just going after both speech and guns simultaniously now

  • Iheartskeet||

    Yup this

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    This issue is tailor-made for someone like Stossel. Just imagine J.S. standing on a corner, handing out printed copies of 3-D gun code to demonstrate how the 1A works.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Stossel would add in a twist with copies costing more for white people and the cheapest copies are available only to Inuit women.

  • NoVaNick||

    Think they are freaking out about guns, just wait until someone makes code available for 3D printed e-cigarettes.

  • Rob Misek||

    Laws are laws.

    If making guns in your basement is illegal, then providing the means to do so should be also.

    Personally, I think guns are a right for demonstrateably responsible people, not for irrational irresponsible people.

    We don't need to regulate guns, we need to fairly scrutinize and and regulate people.

    I suggest the criteria for rational responsibility reflect ones relationship with the truth.

    Problem is, all "leaders" would fail the test.

  • Tionico||

    making a gun in my basement is NOT illegal and never has been nor will be. By your twisted thinking perhaps the chap supplying me with the steel bar stock from which I make the barrel is an accomplice to my "crime" of building a gun from his steel. That all falls under the "keep" aspect of my RIGHT to have firearms.

    guns are a right for "demonstrably responsible people"? Yet MY Constitution declares that all the rights are mine, until/unless it is proven one or more of them must be denied me, AFTER due process of law. By your thinking, the coppers would light me up as I accelerate up the freeway onramp, on the premise I have not proven myself, to their immediate satisfaction, to be a responsible driver. Nope. Poor copper's gotta follow me long enough he catches me IN THE ACT of something contrary to existing laws, never mind whether any harm is done or even could be.

    And just WHO would do the scrutinising and regulating of people, and on what bases? The State of Hawaii have jusst got themselves whcked down to size by the Ninth (of all courts!!!) because their standard of scrutiny is so tight NO ONE can have a gun in public in their "paradise".

    as to "reflect one's relationship with the truth" is concerned, WHY defined "truth" and on what basis?

    I do agree that almost all "leaders" WOULD indeed fail the test..... and this is a problem? Let THEM be disarmed as they want ME disarmed.

  • Flinch||

    "Means to do so"? That includes air, Rob: machinists must breathe. Limits on government is what makes America better than the rest, despite our problems.

  • John B. Egan||

    Nobody has forgotten about the printed gun as free speech.. In fact that is the argument he is using... The author needs to keep abreast of the news.

    However, if it is a free-speech issue that anyone can print a gun, then why is it not a free-speech issue that I can keep a case of dynamite under my bed.. or own an atomic bomb? The Supreme Court has allowed sensible restrictions to the Second Amendment several times in the past. To argue that printed guns should be allowed pulls the plug on any other controls on issues that affect our nation.. Why isn't pedophilia and videos of child rapes unacceptable for example? Why can't someone yell 'FIRE!' in a crowded theater?

    What an absurd article. A sad example of knee-jerk RW thought.. Definitely not the quality we expect from Reason.

  • Lawn Darts||

    Dynamite is an explosive compound. You can't print it. Same for the active ingredients in an atomic bomb. A gun is a machine. You can mill or print it, or- gasp- bang metal on an anvil like the gunsmiths in Colonial Williamsburg do every day ;) You need a better analogy to convince us.

  • Rob Misek||

    If that analogy isn't "good enough" then nothing will convince you that gun ownership requires regulation.

    When you dismiss regulation you give loaded handguns to toddlers.

    Let me guess, you're still not convinced.

  • Tionico||

    since when must government play god? People know what is right and wrong. I know dozens of parents of toddlers, NONE OF WHOM would entertain the idea of those littles having unlimited access to firearms. They regulate all by themselves, no government input needed. Some government hacks would make it a crime for any parent to allow their kids to ever touch a gun until they are some randomly specified age. I know kids as young as six who are fully capable of handling firearms, and are far better shots than you likely are.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Childhood is already the safest period of anybody's life by far, and most people will spend most of their lives as adults. It is thus totally irrational to demand additional limits on the liberties children will get to exercise as adults, in the name of further safeguarding them as children.

    And I say that as the father of a 9 year old. It isn't the government's job to keep him from printing out guns or drugs. It's MINE.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Actually, there's initial research going on right now on "printing" drugs: Drugs are, after all, manufactured by a limited number of operations conducted with a limited number of starting compounds. Aside from the "biologicals", in principle nothing stands in the way of producing a desktop machine that can take a limited library of "inks" and transform them into any of a wide array of pharmaceuticals.

    Explosives, of course, are almost trivially easy to make. The challenge with the more powerful ones is not accidentally blowing yourself up in the process. Aside from that it's kitchen sink chemistry, I could make nitro in elementary school. (Things were different in the 60's, I got extra credit in high school chemistry for sharing my thermite recipe.)

  • Flinch||

    For starters, you can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theatre now, because of the snowflake reaction: you have to provide interpreters to deal with whatever languages people know if we follow Bill Clintons logic in dealing with other public accomodations such as hospitals, polling places or the DMV. Where are your interpreters, man? You're gonna get sued for discrimination. Bush didn't bury Clintons edict - he just tamped it down a bit.

  • Flinch||

    The statists basically want to ban math it looks like. That's what 3d printing is at the end of the day - a math map, tailored to a machines coding requirements. Materials may change - it would be nice if titanium could be layered, as it can be difficult to work with using traditional machining, and the cost savings would be noticeable where large pieces get used. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by big government types, as they don't want to budget, so what use is math to them? Taxes? No, they only need to say "more". It's a race to the bottom that could end in extinction of our species left unchecked: a truly special kind of stupid.
    The real emerging problem short term? The bad brains in government at all levels are looking to create a black market in design technology... and it fits on a thumb drive, floats over bluetooth, hides on a phone screen [in plain sight]. Using their logic, it should be illegal to study nuclear fission? Bunch of maroons. The "war on drugs" helped to birth MS13, degrading the nation and endangering communities. Now what are the unintended consequences of a war on math?

  • Hank Phillips||

    'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

  • dchang0||

    The left has been working hard to clamp down on many other forms of free speech for the past few years.

    3D printed plans for guns is yet another form of wrongthink they want to quash, and it won't be the last.

  • 10mm||

    Need a good right-leaning Onion type 'new site' to purposely troll the media and crazy Left.

    Publish articles about 3d printing of 'stealth knives', maybe 3d printed bombs, ooh, 3d printed voting machines from Russia!

  • TxJack 112||

    There is a much larger issue here as well. What you also have to explain is how the DOJ brokers a deal with Wilson which is approved by a Federal judge and part of that deal is Wilson will be allowed to post the information online. However, within 24 hours, another Federal judge negates that deal and bars posting the information. How exactly does that work? So I make a deal with prosecutors which says I am to serve 5 yrs in prison but someone decides that is not enough, sues and another judge imposes a different sentence? That is exactly what happened here which is way over the line. The Washington judge should have upheld the original agreement and since he did not, should be reprimanded or even removed from the bench. Clearly we have a growing problem on the West coast with Federal judges substituting their political opinions for the law whenever they deem necessary. Time for the SCOTUS to step in and stop all this garbage.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Gosh... who could have seen THAT coming? Tom Paine wrote something called Common Sense once. I wonder if they banned it... And what about "An Open Letter to Jesus Christ"?

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