Blue­prints for 3D guns now sold through mail

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

The chief per­son driv­ing the push for 3D-printed firearms said last week he has started selling plans through the mail, hop­ing to work around a judge’s or­der this week that banned post­ing the blue­prints on­line.

Cody Wil­son, founder of Texas-based De­fense Dis­trib­uted, is test­ing the lim­its of free speech, bat­tling a Clin­ton-ap­pointed fed­eral judge and en­rag­ing gun con­trol groups that say dis­tribut­ing the blue­prints will lead to un­de­tectable plas­tic guns flood­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

But Mr. Wil­son said he is fol­low­ing the judge’s or­ders to the let­ter by stop­ping free down­loads from the web. In­stead, he is selling the plans and send­ing them to cus­tomers on flash drives through the mail, and is con­sid­er­ing email sales as well.

“I’m happy now at this point to be­come the iTunes of down­load­able guns if I can’t be the Nap­ster,” Mr. Wil­son said as he an­nounced his plans.

He is of­fer­ing plans for 3D-printer man­u­fac­tur­ing of parts for sev­eral ri­fles and hand­guns, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar AR-15 ri­fle and a 1911 pis­tol.

He sug­gests a $10 price for each sale but al­lows users on his web­site, De­, to name their own price. He does re­quire users to check a box sig­ni­fy­ing that they are Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, though the com­pany will not ship to billing or ship­ping ad­dresses in the nearly two dozen states that have sued to block him.

“Any­one in the US can buy, but I’ve cho­sen to hu­mil­i­ate some state res­i­dents for liv­ing un­der slav­ish con­di­tions,” he said in a text mes­sage.

His abil­ity to sell the files di­rectly likely comes as a shock to many Amer­i­cans who thought 3D plas­tic guns were il­le­gal and fig­ured dis­tribut­ing plans for them must be as well.

But the le­gal sit­u­a­tion is far more com­plex.

When the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion first blocked Mr. Wil­son, it used mil­i­tary weapons ex­port laws, say­ing that post­ing plans on the in­ter­net was giv­ing away weapons tech­nol­ogy to for­eign­ers.

Af­ter a lengthy le­gal bat­tle, the Trump State Depart­ment re­versed that move this year, say­ing Mr. Wil­son was likely to prove his free speech claim and that the firearms for which he of­fers plans shouldn’t fall un­der the ex­port ban.

Nearly two dozen state at­tor­neys-gen­eral sued and won an in­junc­tion this week from Judge Robert S. Las­nik, who or­dered the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to go back to the Obama-era pol­icy for now.

He said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion likely cut too many cor­ners in agree­ing to the set­tle­ment with Mr. Wil­son.

But Mr. Wil­son and his de­fend­ers say the plans are al­ready in cy­berspace — and in­deed have been down­loaded hun­dreds of thou­sands of times, in­clud­ing from web­sites that rushed to post the files af­ter Judge Las­nik’s orig­i­nal or­der late last month.

“This has al­ways been about con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected con­tent and free speech,” said Brandon Combs, who set up one of those web­sites.

Mr. Wil­son said the judge’s lat­est or­der ex­pressly in­di­cated that while the files can­not be up­loaded to the in­ter­net, they can be emailed, mailed or shared by peo­ple within the United States.

“This is clearly about a speech power. It’s about the power of states to con­trol web­sites,” Mr. Wil­son said. “This is about these states des­per­ately flail­ing for some type of in­ter­net power to pre­vent peo­ple from shar­ing things on­line. I won’t give it to them.”

Washington state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bob Fer­gu­son, who is lead­ing the le­gal case against Mr. Wil­son, said it is up to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to fig­ure out what to do about De­fense Dis­trib­uted’s direct-sales plans.

“Be­cause of our law­suit, it is once again il­le­gal to post down­load­able gun files to the in­ter­net,” he said. “I trust the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will hold Cody Wil­son, a self­de­scribed ‘crypto-an­ar­chist,’ ac­count­able to that law. If they don’t, Pres­i­dent Trump will be re­spon­si­ble for any­one who is hurt or killed as a re­sult of these weapons.”

Gun con­trol ad­vo­cates say the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the plans on­line could lead to ter­ror­ists or peo­ple other­wise barred from hav­ing guns mak­ing their own un­trace­able, un­de­tectable firearms.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment on Mr. Wil­son’s move, though of­fi­cials said this month that while dis­tribut­ing the blueprint files may be le­gal, pro­duc­ing an un­trace­able firearm is still against the law and will be pros­e­cuted. Most plans for 3D-printed guns in­clude some metal, in part to keep them le­gal be­cause they are not “un­de­tectable.”

Dave Kopel, re­search direc­tor of the Colorado-based In­de­pen­dence In­sti­tute, said Mr. Wil­son is on solid le­gal ground with his ac­tions.

“There is no law in this coun­try that pro­hibits Cody Wil­son from dis­tribut­ing these files to Amer­i­cans,” Mr. Kopel said. “The sole is­sue has been if you post it on the in­ter­net … where for­eign­ers can see it, is that a vi­o­la­tion of the Arms Ex­port Con­trol Act?”

Mr. Kopel said that through­out Mr. Wil­son’s le­gal bat­tle, both the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions have been con­sis­tent in say­ing that shar­ing files be­tween peo­ple within the United States wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily pose le­gal prob­lems.

Mr. Kopel also said Judge Las­nik’s ban on on­line post­ing raises tricky ques­tions tied to fed­eral civil pro­ce­dure, since he was block­ing a set­tle­ment that arose in an­other case in Texas, presided over by a dif­fer­ent fed­eral judge.

That judge, an Obama ap­pointee, blocked a pe­ti­tion in late July from sev­eral gun con­trol groups look­ing to halt the set­tle­ment in his court­room.

“Does that mean if there’s some case where the par­ties in Min­nesota set­tle, that some third par­ties who don’t like the set­tle­ment can go in and get a judge in Alabama to shut down the set­tle­ment?” Mr. Kopel said. “That seems like a pretty se­ri­ous usurpa­tion there.”

Mr. Wil­son said his goal isn’t to turn a profit — though he is con­duct­ing a pledge drive on his web­site, and said he is halfway to his $400,000 goal.

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