A federal judge in Seattle today issued a preliminary injunction on the Internet publication of 3D blueprints for printable guns. This injunction extends a temporary restraining order he issued July 31st.
Since at least 2013, the federal government had taken the position that the Arms Export Control ACT “AECA” authorized restrictions on the Internet publication of computer aided design data files that would enable the creation of guns on a 3D printer. This year the Department of State changed course, abandoning prior regulatory and litigation positions and allowing the publication of Internet CAD files for automated production of 3D printed weapons online.
Defense Distributed, the organization that initially posted the blueprints in 2012 and seeks to post them online again, argues that the files are protected speech under the First Amendment. A number of states and the District of Columbia contend that adding undetectable, untraceable guns to the arsenal of weaponry already available will likely increase the threat of gun violence. The federal government asserted that because the AECA regulates the export of defense articles, a change in their regulatory stance cannot be the cause of the domestic effects about which the states complain and that states will not be harmed because the government is committed to enforcing the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. The judge found the federal government arguments to be unpersuasive and hollow.
The court explained that Defense Distributed raises a number of substantive arguments regarding the First Amendment but the court declined to wade through the issues and instead presumes the defendants have a First Amendment right to disseminate the files. The court finds that the ban on Internet publication abridges but does not abrogate the First Amendment rights because regulations under AECA prohibit uploading the files to the Internet, but the files can still be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted or otherwise published within the United States. The court finds that the irreparable burdens on the defendants’ First Amendment rights are dwarfed by the irreparable harms the States are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn, and that overall the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pending litigation.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Herr Loeffler