When Cody Wilson demonstrated the futility of gun control once and for all but publishing specifications for a 3D printable handgun, the United States government was displeased. It didn’t like the idea that the language of the Second Amendment, namely the part that says “shall not be infringed,” might actually be enforceable by its subjects. In response to Wilson’s antics, the federal government tried to censor him. Wilson decided to sue on the argument that censoring 3D printer specifications was an infringement of his First Amendment rights. The Department of Justice (DoJ), the body of the government that tried to censor Wilson and got sued for its shenanigans, finally gave up:
Two months ago, the Department of Justice quietly offered Wilson a settlement to end a lawsuit he and a group of co-plaintiffs have pursued since 2015 against the United States government. Wilson and his team of lawyers focused their legal argument on a free speech claim: They pointed out that by forbidding Wilson from posting his 3-D-printable data, the State Department was not only violating his right to bear arms but his right to freely share information. By blurring the line between a gun and a digital file, Wilson had also successfully blurred the lines between the Second Amendment and the First.
“If code is speech, the constitutional contradictions are evident,” Wilson explained to WIRED when he first launched the lawsuit in 2015. “So what if this code is a gun?”
The Department of Justice’s surprising settlement, confirmed in court documents earlier this month, essentially surrenders to that argument. It promises to change the export control rules surrounding any firearm below .50 caliber—with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and rare gun designs that use caseless ammunition—and move their regulation to the Commerce Department, which won’t try to police technical data about the guns posted on the public internet. In the meantime, it gives Wilson a unique license to publish data about those weapons anywhere he chooses.
Realistically, the DoJ had no choice by to relent. As soon as it tried to censor Wilson’s 3D printer designs, the Streisand effect kicked and ensured that the files were obtained by so many people that censorship became impossible. Beyond Wilson’s case, the DoJ was also fighting a losing battle because even if it managed to censor his designs, anybody with an Internet connection could upload their own designs. The DoJ is one agency that only has authority here in the United States. The Internet is a global communication network. The odds of a single agency winning against a global network are pretty much zilch.