US Government Will Now Allow Defense Distributed to Distribute 3D Printed Firearms Software
After years of litigation, the United States Department of Justice has finally decided to settle with Defense Distributed, the creators of the first 3D printed firearm, and the Second Amendment Foundation. Under the settlement the Department of Justice will no longer prohibit Defense Distributed from distributing its 3D printed firearms software over the internet. Defense Distributed and its companion site, DEFCAD, were founded by an anarchist from Texas named Cody Wilson. Wilson had developed The Liberator, the first functional 3D printed plastic firearm. Not long after Wilson had made the 3D model files available on Defense Distributed’s web site in May of 2013, the United States Department of State’s Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance sent Defense Distributed a letter demanding that they cease distributing 3D models of firearms parts. The Department of State claimed that Defense Distributed was violating export regulations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
ITAR munitions export regulations were also used in the early 1990s to try and stop the distribution of strong cryptography, such as Phil Zimmerman’s PGP encryption, over the internet. The United States attempts to stop the distribution of PGP encryption were thwarted when the code for PGP was released as a book, and thus distribution was protected under the 1st amendment of the United States Constitution. However, instead of employing a similar strategy, Wilson and Defense Distributed filed a lawsuit with attorneys from the Second Amendment Foundation, in which the government’s actions stopping distribution of 3D printed firearms software were accused of being a violation of the 1st amendment, the 2nd amendment, and the 5th amendment of the constitution of the United States.
Under the Department of Justice settlement with Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation, the government made the extraordinary decision to agree to pay back $39,000 in attorneys fees and administrative fees. The government will also amend ITAR regulations to remove the authority to control such 3D printed firearms software and will publish the amended arms export regulations on the Director of Defense Trade Controls web site on July 27th. Export jurisdiction of such software will now be handled by the United States Department of Commerce.
The Department of Justice offered this settlement to Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation in May. Attorneys with the Second Amendment Foundation believe the government offered the settlement because it was unlikely that any of the judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals believed the government would succeed based on the merits of the case. Because Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation reached a settlement and agreed to drop their lawsuit against the government, it is not a victory in court. However, Second Amendment Foundation’s attorney Alan Gula stated that he believes courts may consider this case in future cases where the government makes other frivolous national security claims.
The settlement also marks another victory for the 2nd amendment in that the government has agreed that semi-automatic firearms that are .50 caliber or lower are not inherently military weapons of war. “Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby. For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort,” Alan Gottlieb, the founder and Executive Vice President of the Second Amendment Foundation said in a press release.
Even before the settlement with the government was reached, the 3D printed firearms software was not hard to find on the internet, as it could still be obtained on the darknet and through torrents. Other people continued expanding on the work that Wilson and DEFCAD had begun through a new group called FOSSCAD. The Pirate Bay even created a special category for 3D model files on the torrent search engine under the category of Physibles. Cody Wilson is not just the founder of Defense Distributed, he is also the founder of the American Black Cross, a legal defense fund for American political prisoners like Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the original Silk Road darknet market. Wilson announced on the Defense Distributed web site that their DEFCAD site would have a relaunch on August 1st and that, “the age of the downloadable gun formally begins.”