Future Tense

Judge Issues Injunction Blocking Company from Posting 3D-Printed Gun Designs Online

Cody Wilson, owner of Defense Distributed company, holds a 3D printed gun, called the "Liberator."
Cody Wilson, owner of Defense Distributed company, holds a 3D printed gun, called the “Liberator.” KELLY WEST/AFP/Getty Images

A federal judge in Washington state issued a preliminary injunction Monday prohibiting Cody Wilson, the founder of a company called Defense Distributed, from publishing blueprints for 3D-printed guns on the internet until a lawsuit brought by a group of state attorneys general is resolved.

The injunction is the latest development in Defense Distributed’s long-running legal tussle with the government, which spans back to 2013, when the State Department demanded that the company take down plans for a 3D-printed handgun called the Liberator (which had been downloaded 100,000 times in their first two days online) to comply with international arms trafficking regulations. Wilson sued the government in 2015, arguing that it had violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The government reached a settlement with Wilson in June that allowed him to start posting gun designs on his website again, which seems to have caught the White House off guard.

Attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia sued Defense Distributed in July, right before the designs were set to be made available, arguing that the proliferation of the company’s blueprints would pose a national security risk. (This group now includes attorneys general from 19 states.) Making one of Defense Distributed’s guns requires a 3D printer and the company’s schematics, which contain a code that you can input into the printer. The process does not require any background checks, licenses, or sales records, and the guns themselves do not have serial numbers. This makes the guns virtually untraceable. President Trump has tweeted skeptically about 3D-printed guns.

The judge in the lawsuit, Robert S. Lasnik, had previously placed a temporary restraining order on Defense Distributed’s blueprints in July. He is now extending the order with the injunction so that the company cannot disseminate the files until the legal issues are sorted out. In his ruling, Lasnik wrote in part, “The Court finds that the irreparable burdens on the private defendants’ First Amendment rights are dwarfed by the irreparable harms the States are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn and that, overall, the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pendency of this litigation.”

Wilson told the Wall Street Journal that the ruling is “hilariously bad and an obvious injustice.” He plans to appeal.