A new freakout!
…and dumber than most, too. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the Trump administration from refusing to try to block publication of blueprints to produce guns from 3D printers. Eight states and Washington, D.C. had sought the order. A company called Defense Distributed planned to publish the blueprints after the U.S. State Department agreed to settle a suit filed by the company in an agreement made public on July 10. The suit had claimed the State Department violated the First Amendment by warning in 2013 that publication of the blueprints violated export controls and could lead to a jail sentence for the company CEO, Cody Wilson.
It sure sounds like prior restraint to me, and I suspect, when this gets to the Supreme Court, which it inevitably will, that will be the conclusion.
This began as one more example of the Obama Administration playing fast and loose with the Bill of Rights. Now, it may well be, as the suit by the states alleges, that the Trump Administration didn’t handle its legal U-turn properly, it being, after all, the Trump Administration. Nonetheless, the government blocking the online publication of information, which is what a blueprint is, when no copyrights, patents or trademarks are being violated or national secrets revealed, seems like a pretty clear First Amendment violation.
Never mind, though. The story sparked a perfect storm of fake news, fear-mongering and incompetent journalism. The Times, among others, called the blueprints a “downloadable gun.” There is no such thing as a downloadable gun. You have a gun when you download a blueprint for a gun just like you have a house when you download a blueprint for a house. That term isn’t short-hand, it’s wrong: misleading, inaccurate, and really, really stupid. Other sources blamed President Trump and his administration for the fact that 3-D printer plans for guns were available. They have been available for years. Here are some downloads in case YOU want to have the plans for weapons that you will only be able to make if you happen to have some very expensive equipment.
The other misinformation being circulated by the Times and others (because the effort to ban the Second Amendment is all about creating misconceptions and hysteria) is that 3D printed guns are undetectable by metal detectors. This is not true. The vast majority still will contain metal because their parts have to come from firearms manufacturers. It is already illegal to make a gun that’s undetectable by security devices: there is a law of long-standing called the Undetectable Firearms Act.
Then Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy posted a ridiculous video. It is outrageously misleading: In my upcoming government lawyer ethics seminar, I may show this and ask if it is a legal ethics breach for the state’s highest lawyer to engage in this kind of deliberate disinformation.
The National Review’s David French—he’s a NeverTrumper, you may recall—provided a handy guide through the fake news and anti-gun freakout thickets. Highlights:
- The case sparking the uproar is fundamentally about speech case, not guns. “The plaintiffs weren’t distributing guns, they were distributing information, and by blocking the flow of information, the Obama administration had placed a “prior restraint” on the plaintiffs’ speech. Prior restraints are among the least-favored government actions in First Amendment jurisprudence.”
- “People have been making homemade guns since before the founding of the Republic. You don’t need a license to make a gun for personal use; you need one only if you make a gun for sale or distribution.”
- “Plastic-gun plans are but one Google search away for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Just before I wrote this piece, I typed a single phrase and found plans for multiple guns.”
Then French gives us a fact-check style rundown:
- “Downloadable guns are a real thing because of the Trump administration.”
False. 3D-printed guns were legal regardless of the outcome of the case, and plans for 3D-printed guns were widely available online.
- “Individuals will now be able to log on to a website, and if they have access to a 3D printer, print fully functional and totally undetectable firearms.”
Misleading. The word “now” is deceptive. Individuals were able to do this before the Trump administration’s settlement, and they would have been able to do so even if the Trump administration kept litigating the case. Moreover, it’s important to note that possessing “totally undetectable” firearms violates federal law.
- “All of this is because the Trump administration quietly settled a lawsuit with Cody Wilson, a 3D-gun creator who had sued the federal government for being forced to take down his downloadable 3D guns back in 2013.”
False. As the Fifth Circuit clearly stated, manufacture and possession of a plastic pistol or plastic lower receiver (subject to the Undetectable Firearms Act) “is legal for United States citizens and will remain legal for United States citizens regardless of the outcome of this case.”
French concludes, plaintively but accurately:
Why does this keep happening? Why do media outlets and politicians continue to spread false information and then — when called on it — remain proudly ignorant and instead condemn so-called “gunsplaining”?My own view is simple. For critics of gun rights, details don’t matter because the gun debate is less a policy debate than it is a cultural conflict. The Trump administration’s settlement isn’t so much an outrage on its own terms as it is a vehicle for a different argument — a broader argument against gun culture. And in that broader attack on gun culture, other essential American liberties must be sacrificed, including freedom of expression. Prior restraints on free speech are a small price to pay when gun control is at stake.