On Friday August 7th, US District Judge Robert Pitman denied Cody Wilson’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the State Department’s order to remove the digital files of his 3D printable handgun from his website. In his ruling, Pitman stated that he does not believe that Wilson had successfully proven that the government restricting the distribution of files for the Liberator pistol to violate either the first or the second amendment enough to warrant an injection.
Pitman stated that while violations to First and Second Amendments are considered “irreparable” damages appropriate for an injunction, in order for an injunction to be warranted Wilson would have needed to prove that his damages outweighed the public interest. It seems that Judge Pitman does not believe that Wilson met his legal burden in proving damages, or that the State Department would be unable to control the export of classified information.
“In this case, the inquiry essentially collapses because the interests asserted by Defendants are in the form of protecting the public by limiting access of foreign nationals to ‘defense articles.’ Plaintiffs rather summarily assert the balance of interests tilts in their favor because ‘[I]t is always in the public interest to prevent the violation of a party’s constitutional rights.’ They further assert that an injunction would not bar Defendants from controlling the export of classified information. The Court finds neither assertion wholly convincing. While Plaintiffs’ assertion of a public interest in protection of constitutional rights is well-taken, it fails to consider the public’s keen interest in restricting the export of defense articles,” Judge Pitman wrote in his judgement.
The nonprofit 3D printed firearm advocacy group Defense Distributed run by Cody Wilson and his co-founder Ben Denio first hit the news in 2012 when they launched the Wiki Weapon Project. The WWP would catalog and distribute information, instructions and the digital files for anyone to download and 3D print the world’s first 3D printed handgun, the Liberator pistol. Unfortunately for them, there were some bumps in the road along the way, the largest when Indiegogo cancelled their crowdfunding campaign for violating their ToS. After they managed to raise the funds via Bitcoin, the US State Department stepped in and ordered them to remove the 3D files from their website in 2013.
Wilson complied immediately when issued an official letter from the State Department telling him that posting 3D weapon files online may have violated federal rules regulating the export of sensitive military hardware, including firearms technology. The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) was put in place to prevent such exports, and since files on the internet can be accessed by anyone, they would need to review whether Wilson needed a license to distribute what the State Department called “defense articles.”
Wilson, who was in law school at the time, says that he spent the next two years and thousands of dollars attempting to file legal paperwork that would allow him to comply with the government regulations before finally deciding to file a lawsuit asking for the right to repost his files, and to obtain damages from the State Department in May 2015. Wilson says that he was under the impression that the government would be officially enforcing their letter, so he and his lawyers were preparing to defend themselves. When no official action was taken, and Wilson believed that he was being strung along, he decided to finally sue.
Reason.com’s Brian Doherty pointed out in a recent article that the wording of the law being used by the State Department to restrict Defense Distributed’s ability to share their files online is rather vague about the types of “defense articles” being restricted to:
“…take into account whether the export of an article would contribute to an arms race, aid in the development of weapons of mass destruction, support international terrorism, increase the possibility of outbreak or escalation of conflict, or prejudice the development of bilateral or multilateral arms control or nonproliferation agreements or other arrangements.”
However, it should be noted that in his article Doherty continually suggests that the only item being prevented from being shared online is the original single shot Liberator pistol, something that he calls “a fragile printed plastic pistol.” In fact, the gun has successfully been smuggled into several sensitive areas, and is capable of successfully firing from several meters away. The Liberator is clearly not a harmless toy. Not only have Wilson and Defense Distributed continued to improve and enhance their original 3D printable gun, they also developed 3D printable parts for the popular AR-15 rifle. The 3D printable AR-15 rifle receiver allows a standard AR-15 to be modified to shoot larger, more destructive ammunition.
Pitman’s denial of the injunction against the State Department, and his assertion that he doesn’t believe that Wilson has proven the regulation violated his first or second amendments rights, isn’t a good sign for the final lawsuit’s decision. Pitman is, of course, the same judge who will be hearing the eventual lawsuit. For his part Wilson will continue with his lawsuit in addition to filing an appeal against the denial of motion for injunction to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
You can read Judge Pitman’s entire ruling here, and you can read the history of Defense Distributed’s legal battle with the State Department here. Let us know what you think about this case and 3D printed firearms in general on our Cody Wilson’s Injunction Denied forum thread at 3DPB.com.