Why Does The Medium Matter?

I find the recent injunctions issued against the uploading of software and instructions to make 3D printed guns hard to reconcile with the First Amendment.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose I want to make a metal gun in my garage. I can find out how to do that on the web, and I can freely tell others how to do that. Why is a 3D printed gun different? It would be one thing if the law took the position that no instructions on personal gun making could be made public, much as we might say for a nuclear or a biological weapon. But that is not the law.

The Government is, of course, are free to regulate the manufacture or possession of 3D printed guns (hard as that may be to do). But I can’t see why they can censor the relevant information.

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6 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Maybe we can’t censor the relevant information but information involving 3D printing is practicably quite different than instructions that require metallurgical skills and so forth as required in making guns from scratch in one’s garage (a middle position would be instructions on how to convert guns).

    It is unclear what “the law” is as to spreading information about biological and nuclear weapons. I know of one famous case but it never reached the Supreme Court to my knowledge. See also FN11 in Stanley v. Georgia:

    “Nor do we mean to express any opinion on statutes making criminal possession of other types of printed, filmed, or recorded materials. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 793(d), which makes criminal the otherwise lawful possession of materials which “the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation. . . .” In such cases, compelling reasons may exist for overriding the right of the individual to possess those materials.”

  2. Joe says:

    Given FN11, I’m simply not sure about the legality of spreading 3D printing technology that very well can be more dangerous to the U.S. or any one state if the wrong people got easily applicable ability to create firearms that would be very hard to regulate as compared to those purchased out in the open.

    Such appears to be the point. And, again, maybe the 1A (or the 2A) protects this. But, I don’t think it is blood obvious either.

  3. Joe says:

    see also, with additional details that might affect my analysis: https://balkin.blogspot.com/2018/08/whats-deal-with-3-d-plastic-guns-and.html

  4. Brett Bellmore says:

    It isn’t all that complicated. There’s an implicit “But, guns!” exception that much of the judiciary applies to anything related to firearms. “When dealing with guns, the citizen acts at his peril.” is still the attitude of much of the legal community.

  5. Jones and Eastern says:

    Don’t these guns shoot metal bullets? So someone still has to get metal bullets past the metal detectors if they want to fire gun. How is that different than a regular gun?

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      In theory I suppose you could use non-metallic bullets. Lead glass wouldn’t set off metal detectors.

      But this isn’t really about the plastic guns themselves. It was the thin end of the wedge in an effort to force the removal of firearms related info from the internet.