US State Department orders removal of Defense Distributed's printable gun designs

The US State Department has ordered Defense Distributed to take down the designs for a working 3D printed gun, citing export control rules set out in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Defense Distributed's Cody Wilson is appealing, and says that ITAR does not apply to "non-profit public domain releases of technical files designed to create a safe harbor for research and other public interest activities" -- though this carve out is for works stored in a library. Wilson's appeal may turn, then, on whether the Internet is a library for the purposes of this regulation. In the meantime, the designs are still up on The Pirate Bay, and are for sale in printed form in an Austin bookseller. More than 100,000 copies of the designs were downloaded from Defense Distributed's servers in the brief time that they were online.

“Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled,” reads the letter, referring to a list of ten CAD files hosted on Defcad that include the 3D-printable gun, silencers, sights and other pieces. “This means that all data should be removed from public acces immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements.”

Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas in Austin, says that Defense Distributed will in fact take down its files until the State Department has completed its review. “We have to comply,” he says. “All such data should be removed from public access, the letter says. That might be an impossible standard. But we’ll do our part to remove it from our servers.”

Wilson's project is raising some important legal questions, such as whether design files can be considered expressive speech under the First Amendment, and whether the Internet is a library. The question of code-as-speech was famously considered in the Bernstein case, where strong crypto was legalized. However, as we discovered in the 2600 case, judges are less charitably inclined to code-as-speech arguments when they're advanced by non-academics, especially those with counter-culture stances.

Impact litigation -- where good precedents overturn bad rules -- is greatly assisted by good facts and good defendants. I would much rather the Internet-as-library question be ruled on in a less emotionally overheated realm than DIY guns.

State Department Demands Takedown Of 3D-Printable Gun Files For Possible Export Control Violations [Andy Greenberg/Forbes]

(Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)


  1. Yeah, this is a bit of a shiv in the guts of internet freedom.

    Everyone knew he was about to publish – why didn’t they stop him?  Almost like having conversations about the net works better in an emotionally heated environment – more likely to get tight restrictions.

    Although of course everyone is super-keen on a free internet. /s

        1. Well he’s got buddies that died facedown in the muck in Nam so that you and I could enjoy these 3D printer gun designs.

    1. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t believe that you can go to court over intent. The infringement of the regs has to happen before you can look for a remedy.

      1. Yeah ianale but if the State Dept was going to freak out about this, they could have sent him a note telling him publication would likely contravene XYZ and they’d have to act.  Not a prosecution.

        Equally, incompetence, or running around hearing what the lawyers had to say.  But there will be a working group studying the impact of information freedom etc, linking themes with economic performance and so on.  Wonder if anyone knows what it might be?

        But it’s all hanging out in the same zone as additive manufacturing and information liberty, and the reaction is caustic enough that those two things could be stunted or worse.  And they’re changing the world for the immensely better, so I’m mad.

        Personally I was pissed he published anyway.  Enough guns.

  2. Ah, the Streisand Effect. I’m surprised people still don’t understand it. The files are already being furiously torrented. Someone, please tell the suits that the internet has no ‘Delete’ key.

  3. Boy am I glad the government is doing this.   I would not want N. Korea to get the secrets for a single-shot gun with a barrel so weak that it shatters after a few shots.  I feel safer already.  Also on the list is a plastic magazine.  I am sure that foreign nations could not figure that one out either.

    1. Agreed. It does, of course, make proposals like “ban large magazines” less impactful. But there is little chance of such a measure passing anyway.

  4. As the saying goes, “You can’t delete something from the Internet. It’s like peeing in a pool; once it’s in there, it’s IN there.”

  5. Thank the Deity the government is protecting us from this threat.  Now we can get back to simple human rights issues like allowing people with no background check to buy assault rifles with huge magazines.  Whew!

    1.  I hope you realize that this is a fallacy.  By and large, criminals do NOT obtain their weapons legally (look up the definition of a criminal).  Also,  how do you define “assault weapon?”  Is it black?  Does it have handles?  If somebody were shooting at me, I would worry more about the bullets and less about what color/shape the gun was.  Rifles in general are used in less than 3% of homicides.  Know your facts.

      1. Yeah, what’s the big deal about the occasional annihilation of a couple dozen grade school kids? It’s only 3%! Why should a bunch of dead kindergartners interfere with our rights to fantasize about battling Mexican drug gangs at the mall or overthrowing the government? Gun grabbers are so stoooopid.

        1.  The worst school shooting in our history was pulled off buy a guy with a pair of pistols. But obviously a bit of information like that is not nearly as important as implying that firearms owners are all callous monsters who fantasize about shooting up the food court at the mall. Because it really elevates the discussion to imply that the people who don’t agree with you are all blood-gargling psychotics and you don’t at all sound like you’re from some Bizarro World version of Operation Rescue.

          1. Gosh, when gun owners let Wayne Pierre do all the talking for them, it would appear they want to come off as blood-gargling psychotics.

            And to be honest, I was going for more of a ‘Walter Mitty with anger issues’ vibe.

      2. “Look up the definition of criminal”?  Er, what now?  That’s the weirdest fucking circular argument I’ve seen.  If I buy a gun, shoot someone, thereby becoming a criminal, the gun I purchased must have been illegally obtained because I’m now a criminal? Or are people born as criminals, and thus only illegally purchased guns are used for crimes, because all gun crimes are by people who are already “criminals”?  The reality is that 40-something percent of those convicted of violent felonies had absolutely no previous convictions for felonies or misdemeanors, with about half of all murderers having no previous convictions. So about half of all murderers were not previously “criminals.”
        As for where actual criminals get guns:
        Also, of course, spree killers tend to buy theirs legally, and they do love their rifles.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking — the old encryption restrictions…

      Lots of companies get themselves in trouble because they forget that “technology” (drawings, procedures, etc) is also subject to export restrictions.

    2. All I gotta say is shame on Cory for not including the epic PGP story in this post. MIT’s paper publishing of the PGP code exactly correlates to 3D printable guns in the non-emotional manner he laments about in his blurb. And guess what – the Feds lost the ITAR battle against PGP and it was a victory for freedom in America

      It’s preposterous that ITAR could be used to justify the State Department taking down Defense Distributed’s files. ITAR is supposed to regulate the international sale and distribution of dangerous tech – so that ‘State Actors’ don’t wind up murdering people with technology provided by an American person or entity. No State Actor is going to be printing up 6-shot pistols for its death squads to use.

      The State Department has overstepped its bounds and is asserting authority it does not have. Internet-Freedom people need to realize this and call out our government’s missteps.

      Here’s hoping that the EFF gets involved in a big way.

  6. It’s too late the design is out there!  Now people unprotected by the glorious 2nd Amendment will be able to make their own guns!  This is it, I expect the whole world to become free democracies in a few months.

    1. I expect the whole world to become free democracies in a few months.

      With any luck, this development spells the end of the Empire, and oppressed nations like Texas can finally be free.

      Oh, look. I’ve illustrated Poe’s Law.

  7. If I opened the zip file in a text editor, pasted the contents into an md5 hash generator and got ‘d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e’, would reversing the steps regenerate the original zip file?

    1.  no, hashes are one way. think of it like this:
      if i combine milk, eggs, sugar, yeast, and flour i can bake a bread, but given a bread i cannot get back the milk,eggs,sugar, yeast, and flour.
      or a simpler example: unscrambling an egg.

      1. Said to the evil genius: “I want you to catch Superman!”

        Evil Genius: “Couldn’t I do something more simple, like unscramble an egg?”

  8. Cory,

    I often disagree with some of your positions, but generally agree with your views on “freedom of information” ( in the general sense, not FOIA).  Hence, I am disappointed that you apparently have chosen to forego those views because of your concern about whether the facts and info involved are “good” or “bad.”
    This case is a clear misuse of ITAR by the government in an attempt to control information that it considers “bad,”–a power of distinction I don’t recall giving the government.  Where is the outrage you express when the government attempts to control information you consider “good?”

    1. This is nearly exactly what I have to offer on Cory’s post.  I replied further up with a similar message.

      Cory – shame on you.

  9. In that this project is really a proof of concept and state of the art it has succeeded and can’t be undone. He has shown that with current tech the problem can be solved by a non-genius. Feds are just helping him get the press he deserves. The file is a souvenir.

    1. I downloaded my souvenir the day it went up. So did a hundred thousand others, apparently. It can’t be taken down, and I think that Defense Distributed has very nearly made their point. Once the State Department figures out that ‘it’s out there and we can’t put it back’, then perhaps they will achieve enlightenment… or not.

  10. I don’t know why the Gov’t needs to get involved.

    The NRA (aka Gun Corporations) will never let home 3D gun printing become a mass available thing.

    They aren’t gonna let these kinda shenanigans cut into their gun sales.
    They’ll find a way to convince/trick/buyoff their base and politicians so that home printed guns of any sort are somehow viewed as bad for America and disappointing to God

    1. I think your comment is off the mark, because I really don’t think the point is for anyone with a 3D printer to start running them off by the hundreds. A different purpose is served.

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