3D printing; computer-aided design files; ITAR; prior restraint; gun regulation; First Amendment


This Essay begins by outlining Cody Wilson’s motivation to found his organization, Defense Distributed, and the organization’s progress toward its goals. Then, Part II provides a brief overview of the protracted legal battle between Wilson and the State Department over the right to publish Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files on the internet that enable the 3D printing of guns and lower receivers. Part III.A takes a brief look at whether these CAD files are rightly considered speech at all and, if so, what level of protection they might receive. Part III.B then addresses the problem of even asking whether the files are speech subject to regulation. Part III.B also highlights the similarities between regulating internet speech and regulating public-order crimes, focusing on the impact that enforcement problems in both areas can have on government credibility. It ultimately questions whether these legal battles provide any utility to society. In Part IV, this Essay argues that the State Department is utilizing old and incongruent regulations to enforce practically unenforceable laws to little or no effect, ultimately hurting the credibility of the State and martyring people like Wilson. This Essay advocates for a solution that focuses on 3D printer manufacturers as a control point for gun manufacturing. This solution avoids First Amendment issues and makes import and export control a physical reality, rather than an unbounded problem relegated to an open internet. This Essay looks beyond a judicial solution to practical solutions that stem the growth of in-house manufacturing of weapons.