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Control Freaks

Control freaks just can’t help themselves

By Jeff Knox

(June 16, 2015) Both the Obama administration and Congress have been busy with firearm-related business in recent weeks, with the Department of Justice offering up a series of regulatory changes relating to firearms, and members of the U.S. House introducing legislation and appropriations riders aimed at rolling back some of the current restrictions and complications.

The issue that has caught the most attention within the firearms community is a proposal from the Department of State to “clarify” regulations regarding the “export” of “military technology.”  The proposal was obviously spurred by the 3D printing activists at Defense Distributed, who have sued the federal government for suppression of their First Amendment rights.

Defense Distributed is a company founded by libertarian-minded college student, Cody Wilson, who wanted to prove the futility of gun control laws by demonstrating the simplicity of firearm manufacture using 3D printer technology.  While firearms have previously been made using traditional machining processes, taking a chunk of metal and carving away everything that didn’t look like a gun, 3D printing reverses that process, spraying layer after layer of material (usually plastic) to build a three-dimensional shape. 

 The company caught quite a bit of media attention by building prototypes for an AR-type lower receiver (the part regulated by U.S. law as a firearm), a functional, 30-round magazine for the same model, and a single-shot .380 caliber pistol they dubbed the “Liberator.”  The code for the AR lower is basically a reworking of existing, and widely available code used to direct computer controlled milling machines to carve the lowers out of aluminum.  They just adapted it to drive 3D printers, and tweaked the design to beef up stress points where the plastic might break.  The Liberator pistol consists of one portion that houses a spring and striker, and another piece that serves as the barrel.  The magazine is just a plastic box with a spring in the bottom that functions like a PEZ candy dispenser.  There’s no rocket science here.  All of this is easier to do with traditional drilling and carving than it is with 3D printing, but the printing has a higher “cool factor,” and if you have the code, and the expensive 3D printer, requires no skill at all. 

All of the files were posted on the company’s website for anyone to look at or download, but shortly after the plans for the Liberator pistol were posted, Wilson got a letter from the State Department telling him to take the files down because they could be a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, and the Arms Export Control Act.  These laws and regulations fall under the purview of the U.S. State Department to ensure that weapons of war are only exported to people and places approved by the U.S. government – like Mexican drug lords and America-hating Shia Islamists fighting America-hating Suni Islamists.

The cease and desist order to Defense Distributed raises all sorts of red flags regarding freedom of speech and control of technology.  It is particularly bizarre considering the simplicity of single-shot pistols like the Liberator, and the fact that detailed designs for the AR rifle have been widely available in books since the 1960s, and on the internet since the days before the worldwide web.  Any handy individual could make either of these devices in a matter of hours, using nothing but scrap materials and simple tools.

The simple reality is that in this digital age, common information and ideas cannot be bottled up.  Certainly proprietary details about Stinger missiles or F-35 fighter aircraft can be contained to a degree, but once information is available in the digital world, it is unstoppable.  In the short time Defense Distributed had their plans posted, they were downloaded hundreds of thousands of times by people all around the world, and immediately re-posted across the Internet using the same peer-to-peer file-sharing processes used to share music and video files.  The absurdity is multiplied when you realize that AR blueprints are widely available printed on posters and T-shirts as a form of pop art.  Suggestions that posting digital design files is somehow a threat to national security or world peace, is simply asinine.

But the Obama administration is doubling down on their hopeless control addiction with revisions to ITAR that could make almost all technical discussion of firearms on the internet, or in print, illegal.  This has raised the hackles of gun enthusiasts and been jumped on as a new fundraising opportunity by some pro-rights groups.

Do we believe that the Obama administration is planning to shut down websites like AR15.com and ShotgunNews.com, or forbid the export of Guns & Ammo magazine as violations of ITAR?  No, but the proposed “clarifications” of ITAR empowers that threat, while raising all sorts of other questions, and putting gun owners, gun magazines, and gun-oriented websites under a dangerous cloud.

So what we have once again, is the Obama administration proposing silly, and unenforceable rules that couldn’t possibly work, and which only serve as a fundraising vehicle for gun groups.  In all likelihood the proposal will not only be shot down by Congress – as it should be (write and call your representatives) – but it will probably result in ITAR restrictions being loosened – as they should be (include this in your communications with your Washington servants) – rather than tightened as the administration is proposing.

No wonder gun groups call Obama the greatest firearm salesman of all time, while anti-rights groups have begun asking whose side he’s really on. 

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This home-printed Liberator pistol liberated itself on the first experimental shot.  Certainly not something we
would want terrorists accessing.  They might hurt themselves.  (NSW Police photo)