Debate 8/14: Instant guns cause a stir

Q : Should the sharing of 3D printed gun technology be illegal? The latest round of debates between the gun rights vs. gun control crowds has taken on a decidedly technological direction. The new battleground is over the legality, as well as other public policy questions, surrounding the use of a 3D printer to create […]

Free speech or freedom of information?

By David H. Landon

Q: Should the sharing of 3D printed gun technology be illegal?

The latest round of debates between the gun rights vs. gun control crowds has taken on a decidedly technological direction. The new battleground is over the legality, as well as other public policy questions, surrounding the use of a 3D printer to create functioning firearms. Those concerned about the proliferation of firearms believe this new technology has opened a modern-day Pandora’s Box. This fairly new technology also raises constitutional questions when the government attempts to intervene in this issue.

The first fully operational 3D printer weapon was fired 5 years ago. Its creator was a 25-year-old law student, Cody Wilson.  After successfully creating the gun, which he named the “Liberator,” Wilson and his company Defense Distributed released 3- printable files for the Liberator gun online back in 2013. An entirely new side of the debate over gun regulation began at that moment. In the first week there were over 100,000 downloads of the files needed to create Wilson’s gun.

Within a week the Obama Justice Department shut down the website and let Wilson know that he was in violation of federal laws which prevent the export of firearms without a specific federal export license. Wilson has been in court for the past five years arguing the law the federal government was enforcing on his file-sharing of the plans for 3D printing of a weapon violated the First and Second Amendments. Recently, the Trump Administration settled the lawsuit and Wilson is once again able to upload the plans for these 3D printed weapons on his company’s website for public download.

Those who oppose allowing these weapon designs to be available on the internet argue 3D printed guns are a forbidding expansion of the proliferation of weapons in an already gun-saturated society. Now any Tom, Dick, or Charlie Manson can, for very little money, make their own plastic gun. They believe those in favor of plastic guns manufactured at home are, somehow, less dangerous because they can be made at home.

On the other hand, pro-gun and open carry advocates are skeptical plastic guns present much of a threat. Such pro-gun advocates typically claim their opponents sell fear of easily created guns that can be printed off like photocopies overrunning our streets.

On the note of “fear,” plastic guns are undetectable by metal detectors. These weapons are difficult to detect at security points, as they often don’t have metal parts or, if they do, just a spring and a couple of screws, all of which could pass through a metal detector. However, there are laws already on the books to deal with this issue of undetectability. Ginger Colburn, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, said it is not illegal to print and make a gun in your own home. In fact, it’s already perfectly legal to manufacture your own metal gun at home (you simply cannot sell it). Yet if someone were to print an all-plastic gun, they would be breaking the Undetectable Firearms Act, which prohibits owning a gun that cannot be seen in a metal detector.

Those who support the free exchange of these plans on the internet argue it is their First Amendment right further arguing no one is going to build their own guns to commit crimes. They point out if legally manufactured to specifications, because these hybrids contain metal parts, they are useless for sneaking past any metal detector or security checkpoint. They are also bulkier and are much more difficult to hide. And again, why go to the trouble to build a hybrid gun when you can buy a new one at a store? Gun lobbyists argue 3D printed guns are pointless because many of these weapons can be fired only a few times before the gun breaks.

Q: Should the sharing of 3D printed gun technology be illegal?

A: Nay – 3D printed guns vs. a 2D Constitution

Testing the reach of Free Speech

By Marla Boone

One of the first things the publisher of the Dayton City Paper told me after I was hired was that we don’t debate abortion or gun control because neither argument is winnable. So this piece isn’t about gun control. It’s about freedom of speech. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I agree with that organization’s mission…to defend the Bill of Rights. As has also been visited upon the Second Amendment, the First has been interpreted and re-interpreted until it truly is anyone’s guess as to what the Founding Fathers intended. In a very tidy juxtaposition, the debate topic today seems to pit the First and Second Amendments against each other or at least blur the lines between them.

The framers of the Constitution were incredibly far-sighted. But even they probably could not wrap their brilliant minds around the concept of someone mass-murdering children in classrooms using a gun that fires anywhere from 45-700 rounds per minute.

In 2013, Cody Wilson, who is described as a radical libertarian, designed a “3D printed” plastic gun. It fired a .380 caliber bullet. Wilson posted the 3D printing code “blueprints” for the gun on his web site. Within days, the plans had been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Cody had launched the site months earlier declaring gun control would never be the same. (I know, I know…this is not about gun control.) Just as Al Capone was finally nailed, not on racketeering or murder, but on much tamer tax evasion charges, Wilson was found to be afoul of a gun regulation for “exporting” weapons without a license, using the reasoning that persons in other countries could download the plans. He and his lawyer formulated the defense that forbidding Wilson from posting his gun blueprint not only violated his right to bear arms (Second Amendment) but also violated his right to share information (First).

My personal belief is that we need a gun (1) that can be created on any 3D printer, (2) is undiscoverable by a metal detector, and (3) has the potential to be in the hands of unfiltered citizenry with an infinite variety of agendas like we need four more years of Donald Trump. Most of us will survive it but a lot of people are going to get hurt.

The First Amendment allows for a great deal of unsavory goings-on. It protects violent, misogynistic video games. It protects Rocky Joe Suhayda. It protects Rush Limbaugh. But if we start chipping away at the elements of free speech, in particular the elements of free speech that make us cringe, we are lost. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I choose to take this literally and not bow to the esoteric position he was talking about funding for security on the frontier.

Cody Wilson decided not to skirt the gun law but to change it. He challenged the Department of Justice to a staring contest and the Department of Justice blinked. Two months ago, the DOJ offered Wilson a settlement to end the lawsuit he and co-defendants brought against the U.S. government on a free-speech claim. Their contention was that the blueprint, a digital file, is computer code which is indeed speech.

The government has promised to change export control rules affecting any firearm below .50 caliber with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and guns that fire caseless ammunition. Just to push the envelope, Cody Wilson has posted plans for an AR-15 (the weapon used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting) and a semi-automatic gun.

Gun control advocates (I know, I know…this is not about gun control.) fear the 3D printed guns will enable people whom almost everyone agrees shouldn’t have a gun to, well, have a gun. That ship, sadly, has sailed. Because this is America, there have already been two instances of shooting rampages in which the perpetrator used a homemade gun. Background checks aren’t working. Illegally obtaining a gun is heartbreakingly simple. So the argument about felons and the mentally disturbed obtaining guns is moot anyway. And just to prove that irony didn’t die the day Le Duc Tho won the Nobel Peace Prize, no less an authority than the NRA has commented that undetectable guns are already illegal, that there is a federal law against having them, and is generally making noises as though they would like to convince us they believe in that law and that it is effective.

Freedom of speech isn’t absolute, of course. Slander, the process or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation, is actionable. In 1919, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. authored an opinion in the case of Schenck v. the United States. He wrote, “Speech that is dangerous and false (my emphasis) is not protected as opposed to speech that is dangerous but also true.” This piece was the genesis of the phrase “falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

Providing the loophole through which these guns are firing isn’t the perfect answer. We aren’t a perfect people, nor do we live in a perfect union. Winston Churchill knew this when he repeated, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

A: Yay – Not protected free speech

Put public safety first

By Patrick Bittner

In a country founded on the ideas of freedom, liberty, and equality, the contrast and conflict between these three fundamental principles often comes to the forefront of our collective thought. We all strive to enjoy the three and their benefits in harmony, but many times it becomes apparent that the harmony is not so sound, and their relationship is more like that between siblings than that of equal parts.

Freedom is the overbearing older brother, whose true concepts and meaning have been diminished by time as the situations that existed during its triumph no longer exist. Liberty is the studious sister who too, is overshadowed by more modern ideas and concepts. Equality is the youngest sibling and has yet to come into its own, waiting on the day where citizens no longer quarrel over what their neighbors have but rather what they have that their neighbors don’t.

The very epitome of this tragic balance is present in the First Amendment. Every citizen wants the freedom to say or do whatever they want, free from the infringement of the government (liberty) and they want every citizen to be able to do the same. Yet while this works on paper and sounds like the ideal American situation, it lacks the energetic ease that some of the other amendments have, and leaves us scratching our heads, asking “What is free speech?” The past 242 years have given us many advances in answering this question, and when wondering if it is alright to distribute the plans to manufacture 3D printed guns at home, the answer is clear. It is not protected free speech.

The free speech issue is not the only argument against this idea. Many people, not the least among them the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism for the New York Police Department, have weighed in.

In an article published by The Hill, John Miller says, “The idea of while we are fighting to close those loopholes, to then open the greatest loophole of all, which is buy a $2,000 printer and you can make as many guns as you want that aren’t subject to regulation; that don’t have to have a serial number, that don’t have to be traceable, that may not be made out of metal and can defeat certain metal detectors—we’re taking a turn there from the ridiculous to something that is totally unbelievable.”

3D printed guns bypass the laws created to prevent them by exposing a loophole in the system. And yet while it is totally legal to produce a firearm in your house with a machine shop and knowledge of how to use it, simply buying a printer for a few thousand dollars and downloading plans is an unacceptable amount of impedance to prevent the creation of a device whose sole purpose is to take human life. And while these arguments are completely sound and logical, they are not legal in nature.

The First Amendment protects free speech, or as a famous quote which nobody really knows the author of says, “Your freedom to swing your fist ends when it hits my face.” Speech is considered in a much broader manner when concerning the ability to regulate it. The ability of the government to place restrictions on speech is dependent on a few factors, not the least of which is the effects the speech will have on the security and health of the public.

This is where the distribution of these plans becomes a form of non-covered speech. Giving the average citizen the ability to produce a firearm with nothing more than a few thousand dollars and an internet connection is a grave threat to the American public. The simple fact that the product being produced is made with the sole purpose of taking life places it in a category unlike any other.

This is not only a bad idea, but it is not a form of protected speech as in doing so it would set a dangerous precedent, allowing untraceable guns to be produced by anyone. Furthermore, a federal law passed in 1988 forbids the production of plastic firearms. And while these printed guns cannot be functional and solely plastic, the precedent in allowing such weapons would circumvent one of the few sensible gun laws on the books in this country.

While the zealot Cody Wilson has some of the most American ideals at heart in his crusade for free speech, to say that this is a speech issue alone would sell short the idea that this is not a gun issue. If it were any other product, save for ones that fall in the same category of being designed to take life, I would have little issue with the free exchange of information. But the distinction comes when the item being produced has the ability to inflict disastrous damage on our communities.

I am a gun owner and I do not fear the ability of the government to track my firearms back to me with their serial numbers. Anyone who has this fear should not own a gun, but that is a different argument altogether. What is clear though, is that by publishing the plans to print guns the country would reach a new level of risk. This cannot and should not happen for the safety and security of our communities and country.

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David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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