Sharing files that can help anyone 3D print guns is now legal and protected under free speech.
That’s the key takeaway from a major settlement between the US government and gun rights activist Cody Wilson in his attempts to distribute 3D-printed firearms.
On Tuesday, his legal team announced the settlement, calling it a “devastating blow” to the gun control lobby. “I consider it a truly grand thing,” Wilson told Wired in an interview. “It will be an irrevocable part of political life that guns are downloadable and we helped to do that.”
Back in 2013, Wilson began uploading 3D printable CAD files to create a working plastic gun, called the “Liberator.” This drew the attention of federal authorities; the US State Department demanded Wilson pull down the files, claiming he was violating an export rule on distributing secret military hardware.
In response, Wilson eventually took the US government to court; he’s been arguing that the First Amendment protects his constitutional right to share the 3D files as free speech.
The legal battle has gone on for three years. But according to Wired, two months ago, the Justice Department decided to quietly offer Wilson a settlement to end his lawsuit. Under terms of the deal, the US government has agreed to change its export rules on military firearms, allowing Wilson to publish his 3D files, without fear of legal penalty.
“Significantly, the government expressly acknowledges that non-automatic firearms up to .50-caliber — including modern semi-auto sporting rifles such as the popular AR-15 and similar firearms — are not inherently military,” said the Second Amendment Foundation, which supported Wilson in his lawsuit.
So far, the Justice Department hasn’t commented on the lawsuit, but the settlement opens the door for the proliferation of 3D printed guns. Wilson has started his own nonprofit, called Defense Distributed, which is seeking to become a digital warehouse for open source gun designs. (His nonprofit is also offering a 3D printer for $1,675 that can fabricate a metallic lower receiver to an AR-15 rifle.)
However, gun control advocates will no doubt oppose the settlement. Critics worry that as the technology matures it could fall into the wrong hands, and pave the way for untraceable guns that criminals can buy or print for themselves.