Afternoon Ethics Jolt, 8/1/2018: When You Cross Fake News, Dishonest Journalism, Anti-Gun Hysteria, Ignorance And “The Resistance,” What Do You Get?

 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.


34 thoughts on “Afternoon Ethics Jolt, 8/1/2018: When You Cross Fake News, Dishonest Journalism, Anti-Gun Hysteria, Ignorance And “The Resistance,” What Do You Get?

  1. I personally think that a public blueprint for 3D firearms is unreasonably stupid, but I cringe at the allusion to export controls. Clearly, this does not fall under any of the export control criteria. The only one that comes close is the one for military firearms/weapons and those criteria are as follows:
    “Is specifically designed, developed, configured, adapted or modified for a military application” IT IS NOT
    “AND Does not have predominant civil applications” IT DOES
    “AND Does not have performance equivalent (defined by form, fit, and function) to those of an article or service used for civil applications,” IT DOES
    “OR [Note we finally get to “or” after all the criteria that must exist together but do not] Is specifically designed, developed, configured, adapted or modified for a military application, and has significant military or intelligence applicability such that control is necessary.” IT IS NOT.
    Donc, voila! as my French friends say. Thus, the export control prohibitions do not apply to this.

    • I can’t wait till some judge in some conveniently available (to the politically correct parties) court rules that the final “and” in that definition Michael cites is a “non-exclusive ‘and.'” The judge’s meaning (and ruling) will be that the “and,” while not explicitly indicating so, ALSO means “or.”

      Next, some secret FISA court (in collusion with the judge and the people who set up the case for the first judge to rule) will use that implied “or” to ban every “firearm” from ownership, possession, or use by any and all members of the “general public.” PRESTO! No more Second Amendment. BWAAAAAAAAA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

      Stranger things have happened. Law RULES! (/sarcasm)

        • I know, I know, supposedly some recent ruling has made it “clear” that not every “firearm” is a “weapon of war.” Pfffft! Mere legalistic mal-construction! Future courts ALWAYS know better, and thus change the law when necessary, to mean what it REALLY SHOULD mean (wink-wink)!

        • luckyesteeyoreman wrote, “After all, isn’t EVERY “firearm” a “weapon of war?”

          Anything that can be used as a “weapon” can be considered a weapon of war, it’s a terribly, terribly damn near vertical slippery slope that’s greased with the most slippery substance known to man and that is the point of the bull shit rhetoric. Weapons of war in our politically charged environment can easily include things like hate speech (it’s murder you know), pitch forks, Chicago Cutlery, baseball bats, hammers, motorcycle helmets, cars, chain saws, bow and arrow, crossbow, spear, horse, pocket knife, screwdriver, boot, fist, elbow, ceramic tile, cigarette lighter with lighter fluid, gasoline, heck for MacGyver even a stick of gum and a paperclip could be considered a weapon of war, the list is absolutely endless!

      • lucky, what you just described is a recipe for civil war, given the past two years. Gun owners are a large demographic that voted for Trump.

        Just add water and bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

  2. Though we, ostensibly, speak the same language as the Trump Deranged, it is clear our ability to communicate clearly and agree upon verifiable facts is dwindling rapidly. Sharing the same words with biased meanings having such a chasm between them means we cannot read, hear or take in information in any other way with agreement.

    The language leaps taken to attempt to outrage an ever greater portion of the populous, as in this case, perverts our representative republic and its once mutually understood principles.

    Is there an interpreter in the house?

  3. There is NO material that will withstand the extreme stress of firing a bullet as well as metal… and even metal eventually fails. These ‘printable’ guns are mostly made of plastic, but the heavy duty parts are metal, and thus ‘detectable.’

    If one were to make a whole gun out of a material other than plastic, accuracy, durability and safety would all be compromised. Read “might blow up in your hand at any point.”

    Lets just take a moment to breathe: if manufacturers could make a marketable (read “safe, reliable, durable, accurate”) plastic gun (no, the glocks and their clones do not count: The inner workings are METAL) don’t you think they would have by now? It would be cheap, once volume manufacturing techniques were brought to bear, after all. The law could be followed by adding a single bit of metal -like a serial number stamp- to the otherwise plastic gun, making it ‘detectable.’

    So why don’t they? Because such a gun does not exist given the stress of the physics involved and current materials science.

    • Just so you know, it is possible to 3D print metal. It’s just costly right now, as sintering lasers don’t come cheap.

      • Sintered metal, as yet, cannot withstand the pressures firing a bullet produce. They are more useful for doorknobs (no snark, saw one used to make high end ornate door knobs and matching cabinet handles) than firearms. The cost was…exorbitant.

        That may change one day, but “not this day.” (geeky LOTR reference)

  4. I was listening to an interview on NPR with the AG of Connecticut on this, and the only answer he gave to the First Amendment problem was “Well, there are limits on every right”. Which is the equivalent of justifying an arrest by saying “Well, there are some things that are prohibited by law.” It’s not a legal argument, and an Attorney General ought to know it.

    • I almost get the sense that these AGs want their political opponents disarmed and silenced.

      I think having those files and knowing someone with access to a 3D printer might be a regrettable but prudent course of action to take.

      • OR

        You could, like, BUY a gun, learn how to safely use it (you might like the noise and fury) and stock up on ammo.

        Do this in a state that does not limit your ability to do so (Texas is a good example). If you are really paranoid, buy one from a private seller, to reduce any paper trail whatsoever.

        Your suggested course will only provide a weapon of limited use, unless you buy certain parts anyway (and thus leave a paper trail).

  5. What they also do not tell you is there is a huge difference between 2d blueprints and the coding necessary to print in 3d. Blueprints are measurements in an x/y plane. 3d printers reproduce in an x/y/z plane. To simply download the capability to produce anything on a 3d printer you need to write a CAM file. A dwg CAD file is the blueprint and CAM files tell the machine what to do.

    Any machinist can reproduce anything if they take the time to simply measure out parts of an existing legal or illegal weapon. You do not need blueprints. Gunsmiths are just those who specialize in weapon making.

  6. I must say I had a hard time wading through the first paragraph. Why say a temporary injunction blocking a refusal to act? Why not say the court tried to compel Trump to defend the Obama decree. I get so confooosed.

  7. I’m definitely a pro gun ownership guy and believe that everyone who is not a felon or insane should have access to home defense weapons and such. The only thing I wonder about is the serial number issue: if someone could clarify how this works, please post something about it.

    • If you make a firearm yourself, for your own use, there is no serial number requirement per Federal law (state laws vary). It’s only when you wish to sell or transfer the gun to another person that a serial number is required.

  8. I may not be an expert on firearms but I know the difference between automated machining of metal and deposition modeling used in 3d printers. That video link shows metal being removed in a normal manufacturing process using a $75,000 or more CNC mill and not a 3d printer. The homemade AR15’s mentioned could not be made in a 3d printer because the barrel would melt or explode. Homemade weapons such as the AR are simply those that the buyer assembles from metal. AR parts available from various suppliers. Pick up any Guns and Ammo magazine and you will find ads for recievers, barrels, rails, stocks etc. The AG is misleading the public by suggesting that murder weapons were created by deposition modeling or 3d printing. The only weapon shown in the video that was created by a 3d printer was a single shot weapon with a 1 to2 inch barrel. I only need a piece of metal tubing a rubber band and I can make the equivalent. It is called a zip gun. The producers of that video are liars.

    • Actually. a 3D-printed AR-15 receiver has been able to fire at least 600 rounds.

      Here’s why that matters:
      A typical infantryman usually has about 210 rounds of ammo for their M16 rifle/M4 carbine. That’s the equivalent of three basic loads.

      Maybe it’s not something for the whole war, but it is something that will do until you can get something better.

      • IM
        The reciever is but one part of the AR. This article even says it was not a 3d printed weapon. 3d printing is either sintered metal deposition or a melted polymer deposition. The barrel of the weapon is what will fail even if the reciever works. You can deform a plastic part produced by a 3d printer by leaving it in a hot car. I know because I have seen such deformed parts.

        • Barrels for an AR are easy to come by.

          The receiver matters because that is what is legally considered the firearm.

          But even if a barrel wears out at 600 rounds (lets assume a comparable life to a 3D printed receiver), that’s long enough until the user can get something better.

          • This was a misleading because the inner working were standard metal parts. Only the frame (reworked to shore up stress points) was made of plastic.

            True, this part is the ‘firearm’ portion of an AR 15, and if sold requires a serial number. However, the deception lies in that you are allowed under the same law to create your own lower receiver today. If it is for personal use, not sale, you could make one from lincoln logs (and it might hold up just as well as plastic/snark).

            Indeed, I can buy what is called an ‘80% Lower’ today and finish it myself. No Form 4473. No records. Made from metal. Totally Legal!

            This simply does not have the control group holes (trigger, safety, etc.) drilled out. One could (if one has the patience) drill this with Black and Decker drill. Or use a more powerful mill (or router) and it will go quickly.

            My point is that the 600 plus rounds claim is a red herring. Reading the article I found that the big deal was “we can now print this part of an AR 15” rather than “we can make these guns from plastic.”

            The article was from 2013. This is commonly available now, for those who can afford or access a six figure 3D printer. This is not a new capability, nor any more of a threat than a number of legal ways to get around the serial number requirement today. If you sell what you made, you are a felon.

      • IM
        My understanding of the AR 15 reciever is that the lower reciever is what is classified as a firearm as it is serialized. Owning a lower reciever is considered owning a firearm even though by itself the most harm it could do is cause a welt if you threw it at someone. It is merely the frame to hold the fire control group, magazine and serves as a point of attachment for the stock and barrel. The upper receiver is the frame that holds the breach block.

        One can produce all the plastic lower recievers they want but without the fire control group, barrel, breachblock, stock, and upper reciever they simply have a piece of plastic. These receivers or frames need only be rigid to be functional. They are not subject to the stresses of the breach block or barrel.

  9. If these nuts are so concerned about 3d printed guns why are they not trying to ban the private ownership of 3d printers? 3d printers can easily make undetectable shivs and knives.

  10. The idiots in this story, which is unfortunately the entirety of the mainstream media, have no idea what this case was about.

    The case was about the export of firearms or associated technical data, which according to the PMDDTC (the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Department of Defense Trade Controls), can happen if you post things like downloadable plans for firearms on the Internet. It can constitute an export of technical data controlled by something known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which is the enabling rulemaking supporting the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). This same claim was made back in the day when the same PMDDTC claimed posting the cryptographic program PGP (for Pretty Good Privacy) made by Phillip Zimmerman. Google that name to figure out how that went, but long story short, the PMDDTC eventually changed it’s definition of what it considered controlled encryption.

    This settlement is the PMDDTC realizing that it has engaged in a First Amendment prior restraint by suing Defense Distributed. As Jack points out, these plans have been available for years, and as long as they are downloaded within the borders of the United States and not exported, the US Government has absolutely no controls in place to restrict the dissemination of this tech data. It is perfectly legal for any American citizen to possess. The only problem, ever, was the PMDDTC’s assertion that placing it on the Internet for download constituted an export of technical data controlled by the AECA via the ITAR. It has now properly realized that this is not the case, and that their lawsuit is meritless.

    The dumbness of the media cannot be understated in this case, nor the transparently partisan nature of their reporting. It is manifestly, almost universally wrong, and any congressional attempt to outlaw the downloading of intellectual property freely offered is explicitly forbidden by the First Amendment to the Constitution and associated US Supreme Court rulings, unless congress orders this tech data classified as a national security matter. Even then, it would fail as moot, as the data has been freely available for years.

    This is stupidity to the power of infinity.

    Oh, and in case you doubt my credentials, I have licensed exports via the PMDDTC for many years, and am deeply familiar with both the BIS and State Department export laws and enabling regulations.

    • Good point. The one I had access to with a 20 inch bed was nearly $21,000. The 6×6 home printers cost about 1,000 to build yourself. The accuracy needed to produce a working firearm that shoots a single bullet cannot be obtained on these homebrew printers. The 12×12 ones you find in tech schools are fairly accurate but not to 5/10,000ths needed for reliable parts and even these cost about 3 grand.

      • This is vastly amusing. Twenty one thousand dollars for a one-shot handgun that gives you no advantage whatsoever in a gun fight. Obviously, we must STOP this immediately. Another example of hysterical people going off the rails about a subject they are totally ignorant concerning.

  11. 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.

    I suspect, among the anti-gun spokesholes, that their opposition to guns is due to their hostility and disdain to what they perceive as white male culture.

    Note that by “gun nuts”,. they never mean black gangbangers.

    • What is worse, Michael, is that many of the ‘bangers have actual, real automatic weapons (MAC-10’s’ Uzi’s, etc.).

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