The media often scare us about 3D-printed guns. “Anyone can print it, no background checks, mental illness not a factor, virtually undetectable,” a CNN anchor warns.
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Politicians scare us too. It’s “a direct threat to our national security,” former Senator Bill Nelson claimed last summer.
But are they? For a video collaboration with the Federalist Society, I talked with Josh Blackman, the lawyer representing Defense Distributed — the company that posted blueprints for making 3D guns online.
Blackman says posting the 3D-gun blueprints is protected by the First Amendment, since the blueprints are a form of speech.
“The law can treat firearms like firearms. They can’t treat the speech used to make them like firearms… We’re fighting for the constitutional right to share these files with the world,” Blackman tells me.
But Massachusetts legislator David Linsky, who has sponsored a bill to ban 3D-printed guns, doesn’t buy that.
“It’s not censorship when the national security and public safety are at stake,” he tells me. “You shouldn’t be able to make a gun in your own basement,”
Blackman asks, why not? “If we had a ban on home manufacture of weapons during the time of the American Revolution, we would probably still be under the King’s rule.”
The Constitution protects free speech and gun rights — but it also says “provide for the common defense.” Could that be cited as a reason to limit these guns? Politicians call them a “windfall for terrorists.”
Blackman disagrees: “Terrorists have access to far more dangerous weapons than 3D-printed guns. The notion that ISIS is having a factory of 3D-printers, and making these stupid little plastic guns that can fire one shot at a time, it really strains credulity.”
Even if the government wants to regulate 3D-printed guns, it will be nearly impossible. Blueprints are already all over the internet.
I showed Rep. Linsky some websites with blueprints. He was surprised, but said: “I understand that some people might think that the genie is out of the bottle… But let’s put as much of that genie into the bottle as we possibly can.”
“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Blackman responded. “One of the reasons why these efforts to regulate the internet are kinda silly is you can’t shut down information. We believe in free speech. This is an important principle and the state can’t take us down.”