Defense Distributed versus the US Government

In my last entry, I mentioned that the United States Department of Defense had requested Defense Distributed remove the plans for their 3D printed firearm from the internet.  I also mentioned that I believed this was Defense Distributed getting the legal fight it had been spoiling for.

Eating my Words

However, I believe I have to eat my words.  It has now been more than a month since the USDoD requested the plans be removed form the internet and there has been no response (other than compliance) from Defense Distributed.  In my mind, this is indicative of Defense Distributed scrambling to find a response or believing they have achieved their goal.  If Defense Distributed had anticipated that they would be targeted using export laws, I believe they would have already responded.

My basis for analyzing Defense Distributed’s actions is a lawyer friend of mine.  I have seen him repeatedly take on laws he doesn’t like, believes are unjust or poorly written.  His typical methodology is fairly simple:  Come up with a plan for getting caught breaking that law, then analyze all possible arguments that could be made by the prosecution/state.  He then, for every opposing argument, attempts to find old case-law or create new arguments as to why the argument is invalid.  If he feels he has a strong enough case, he gets himself caught.  Otherwise, he goes back to the drawing board and finds another method.

Given that, from his descriptions, this is a very typical way for lawyers to go about challenging laws and given that Cody Wilson is a law student, this seems to be what Defense Distributed was aiming for.  I expect that they had researched a significant amount of case-law having to do with the home manufacture of firearms and the second amendment.  I believe they were expecting a challenge to the legality of printing firearms within the United States.

However, this was not the challenge Defense Distributed got.  They got a challenge having to do with export controls and the fact that they were making their plans available to anyone anywhere in the world.  Their immediate compliance and radio silence since leads me to believe they were not expecting this challenge.

Frankly, this is an immensely smart response on the part of the USDoD.  Defense Distributed has not been secretive about being motivated by the second amendment to the United States constitution.  This likely indicates that they did most of their research and had the best prepared defenses in this area.  By sidestepping that entirely, the USDoD is forcing Defense Distributed to argue in an area they are less prepared in.  Further, by making an argument on the basis of downloading files constituting distribution, the USDoD is moving to an area where the case-law is much, much less fleshed out and much more poorly understood.  My lawyer friend regularly asks me to describe how parts of the internet work when it pertains to his cases.  We’ve discovered that the case law is often about 20 years behind reality.  In short, this is an area where the USDoD can make essentially whatever argument it pleases and not have to worry about prior case-law to invalidate it.

I don’t believe that we’ve heard the last of Defense Distributed.  They don’t seem to be people who give up at the first threat.  However, I have no solid predictions on how they will respond to this challenge.

Where From Here?

As a 3D printing enthusiast, I think the best thing Defense Distributed can do for the 3D printing community is shut up and go away.  Very very few of us have any interest in using this powerful technology to harm others or produce weapons.  The 3D printing community is, in the majority, about creating, modifying, repairing and making lives everywhere better.  The community’s reaction has been one of disapproval.  For example, Defense Distributed’s existence is the motivation behind the 3D Printers for Peace contest.

Because of Defense Distributed, most people now know 3D printing as a threat.  We the community need to show the Defense Distributed is an aberration and that 3D printers are about creation and improvement.  3D printing has a huge amount of potential and it would be a shame to see that ruined by a few people with little sense.