Printing 3D Firearms and Accessories Now Protected as Free Speech

Posted on Thursday, 12th July 2018 @ 03:33 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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Reprinted with permission from

In November 2012, I wrote the following seemingly fantastical story in The New American:

A “little piece of paper” is all that prevents the printing of firearms at home using 3D printers.

That was the comment made by Cody Wilson, co-founder of a company that will soon offer customers plans for printing the plastic guns in the privacy of their own homes.

Texas-based Defense Distributed has already finished three downloadable designs of plastic guns that can be printed using the new 3D technology. The company calls the new technologically tooled guns the ‘Wiki Weapon.’


At that time, the ability to print a functioning weapon was a wonder, but it didn’t take long for the federal gun-control machine to catch up to the three-dimensional printing machine.

As reported by Wired:

Less than a week later, Wilson received a letter from the US State Department demanding that he take down his printable-gun blueprints or face prosecution for violating federal export controls. Under an obscure set of US regulations known as the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Wilson was accused of exporting weapons without a license, just as if he’d shipped his plastic gun to Mexico rather than put a digital version of it on the internet. He took offline, but his lawyer warned him that he still potentially faced millions of dollars in fines and years in prison simply for having made the file available to overseas downloaders for a few days.

Wilson, undeterred by the federal leviathan’s efforts to seize not only his fully-functioning, homemade, plastic printed firearm, filed suit in 2015 against the United States, averring that the U.S. State Department was depriving him (and his co-plaintiffs) of their right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment by ordering Cody’s company that it could not post online the file — computer code — with which others could print their own weapons and accessories, as written by Cody.

That question represents a quite clever constitutional conundrum that it seems the federal government’s lawyers can’t figure out.

Surprisingly, the U.S. Justice Department offered to settle the case, surrendering its pursuit of Cody and his code (or gun, or, well, file). 

The long and short of the Justice Department’s rare and remarkable retreat is that publishing code that can be used to print a weapon capable of firing ammunition is now a constitutionally protected expression of free speech!

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