The Battle for DIY Handguns

GABRIELA S. HERNANDEZ—On August 27, 2018, Judge Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for Western Washington issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration from releasing blueprints for 3D-printed handguns. Judge Lasnik reasoned that States may suffer irreparable harm if the blueprints are released to the public. This decision extended previous blocks of the blueprints’ publication.

The ruling derived from a year-long battle between the federal government and Defense Distributed, a Texas-based company that announced designs for the world’s first ever fully 3D-printed handgun in 2013. The handgun, called the Liberator, is an AR-15 type rifle lower receiver made of ABS plastic, the same material used in Lego blocks. After Defense Distributed posted the blueprints for the Liberator on, internet users with a 3D printer were just a few clicks away from a 3D-printed handgun.

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Once the Liberator reached over 100,000 downloads, the Obama administration ordered that the blueprints be taken down. The federal government reasoned that posting the blueprints was a violation of the Arms Export Control Act, a law that gives the President of the United States the authority to control the import and export of firearms of up to .50 caliber. In response, Cody Wilson, the company’s founder, sued the federal government in 2015. Wilson argued that the State Department not only violated Wilson’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, but also violated his First Amendment right to freely share information.

In June 2018, the Trump administration settled the case, allowing blueprints to be available for download as of August 1, 2018. However, on that day, several states sued to block the release of the blueprints.

Agreeing with the states’ concerns, Judge Lasnik granted a temporary restraining order blocking the release of the 3D-printed handguns. However, before the Judge issued his decision, the plans were downloaded by more than 1,000 people. Judge Lasnik stressed that the 3D-printed handguns are a risk to public safety. “It is the untraceable and undetectable nature of these small firearms that poses a unique danger,” he wrote. Because the pistols do not have serial numbers, the 3D-printed handguns are essentially “untraceable.” Judge Lasnik also cautioned that the pistols would be available to people without a background check.

Public safety concerns are paramount to society. 3D-printed handguns cannot be detected by metal detectors and they do not require any licenses—therefore making them untraceable. Moreover, the free flow of information has been blocked before in the interest of public safety. The FDA, for example, required Google to remove information pertaining to unregulated pharmaceuticals. Although this triggered First Amendment concerns, the public safety concerns prevailed.

Wilson has yet to appeal Judge Lasnik’s preliminary injunction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He has, however, vowed to fight his way to the Supreme Court of the United States, if necessary. An appeal would further cloud this intricate battle between the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, and public safety.