How to Stop The Liberator?

May 9th, 2013

The plans for the first pistol, made entirely with 3D-printed parts, are now online. With the exception of a single steel nail (used as a firing pin), and a piece of aluminum to add the requisite metallic countent ot get around the undetectable firearms act, the gun can be made entirely at home.

So how can the creation of these guns be stopped? Congress can create a law that criminalizes the possession of firearms made from 3D-printers.

Steve Israel has introduced a bill that would reauthorize the “ban on undetectable firearms.” But this would only enforce those firearms that the government finds. The danger with these weapons is that they can be created without having to go through the normal streams of commerce, right in the comfort of one’s own home. How can the construction of these guns be halted? The answer would have to lie somewhere in limitations on (1) obtaining the plans, or (2) using the 3D printers. It is not inconceivable for the government to mandate that 3D Printers wonly print certain blueprints that have a certain DRM (digital rights management) signature on them. In other words, if you tried to print a 3D gun, the 3D printer wouldn’t work. An analogy to this would be the SSL (secure socket layer) certificates used on certain commercial web sites. In order to engage in secure online transactions, a site must have a certain public and private key. If they don’t match, the transaction wouldn’t work. I suppose Congress could require that 3D printers only print if a certain key is provided. This kind of DRM technology could also help prevent, more broadly pirating of copyrighted, trademarked, or patented goods.

Would this raise First Amendment issues? That is, limiting the ability of people to create.

The first, and potentially more problematic way to stop this type of 3D printing, would be to criminalize the possession and distribution of these plans. In other words, the Decad site would be illegal. The analogy for this move is how the government was able to shut down sites like Napster and Kazaa that trafficked in songs that violated copyrights. If congress banned 3D gun blueprints, sites that trafficked in them, would be breaking the law, and could be shut down. Cody Wilson has created Defcad because other 3D printing sites won’t host his stuff.

Now, limiting the distribution of the plans would, I think, more clearly raise First Amendment issues, which I will explore later. This strongly implicates work I’ve been developing, along with great scholarship from Jane Bambauer, which looks at whether data is speech. I’m sure Chuck Schumer will find a way to stifle these devices. More coming soon.

 Update: As I was about to submit this post, I see that the State Department has ordered Defense Distributed to take down the plans, asserting that they violate the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Wilson’s comments are interesting:

“Our theory’s a good one, but I just didn’t ask them and I didn’t tell them what we were gonna do,” Wilson, a University of Texas law student, told Mother Jones. “So I think it’s gonna end up being alright, but for now they’re asserting information control over the technical data, because the Arms Information Control Act governs not just actual arms, but technical data, pictures, anything related to arms.”

“I don’t like it—but I do think that it actually ends up helping the message of the project a little more, that, look, in the end we’re going to be having a fight about what it means to be controlling information.”

The government is asserting control over “data” and “information.” Is data speech?

The only way to stop this market is by cutting off access to the data:

But the proposed bill makes no attempt to regulate who can and cannot purchase said gun factory; 3-D printers are still available for anyone to use. Likewise, while the guns are printed from files that are posted online, there is no restriction in the bill on what kind of 3-D printer files you can post online. (Thingiverse, the internet’s preeminent database of downloadable 3-D printer files, banned Wilson from posting his Defense Distributed instructions, but in response he simply set up his own website, DEFCAD, which he calls, “the island of misfit objects.”)

Of course, as Mother Jones notes, there are so many mirrors that takedown notices are largely ineffective.

As with everything else on the Internet, the takedown notice from the DTCC has its limitations. For one thing, there are already a number of “mirror” sites that essentially replicate DEFCAD but are not controlled by Wilson—or anyone in the United States, for that matter. You can also download the plans for the Liberator or various component parts from the Pirate Bay, the notorious Swedish file-sharing index site.

Gee, that was faster than I thought.