3D printed guns and the law: will judges be able to think clearly about digital files when guns are involved?

My latest Guardian column is "3D printed guns are going to create big legal precedents," and it looks at an underappreciated risk from 3D printed guns: that courts will be so freaked out by the idea of 3D printed guns that they'll issue reactionary decisions that are bad for the health of the Internet and its users:

More interesting is the destiny of the files describing 3D printed guns. These model-files have been temporarily removed from the internet at the behest of the US State Department, which is investigating the possibility that they violate the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Wilson says that he's on safe ground here, because the regulations do not cover material in a library, and he says the internet is like a library. As this is taking place in the US, there's also the First Amendment to be considered, which limits government regulation of speech.

Here's where things get scary for me. Defense Distributed is headed for some important, possibly precedent-setting legal battles with the US government, and I'm worried that the fact that we're talking about guns here will cloud judges' minds. Bad cases made bad law, and it's hard to think of a more emotionally overheated subject area. So while I'd love to see a court evaluate whether the internet should be treated as a library in law, I'm worried that when it comes to guns, the judge may find himself framing the question in terms of whether a gun foundry should be treated as a library.

3D printed guns are going to create big legal precedents