A federal district court judge in Seattle just issued a shocking temporary restraining order against Defense Distributed, a Texas-based company that publishes blueprints online which can be used to 3D print firearms.
The judge’s order amounts to what media lawyers would call “prior restraint” — what the Cornell Law School’s legal dictionary defines as “a government action that prohibits speech or other expression before it can take place.”
Think of it like muzzling your dog before it even lets out a yelp.
Courts have generally frowned upon the use of prior restraint. The U.S. Supreme Court even ruled the practice unconstitutional in 1931.
But what makes the judge’s ruling even more bizarre is that the judge claimed, in his short opinion, that with this ruling, he is preventing these designs from being shared on the internet.
“A side effect of the USML has been to make it more difficult to locate and download instructions for the manufacture of plastic firearms,” the judge wrote. “If an injunction is not issued and the status quo alters at midnight tonight, the proliferation of these firearms will have many of the negative impacts on a state level that the federal government once feared on the international stage.”
There’s just one problem: Defense Distributed provides one site where people can post, share, and purchase gun designs and blueprints for 3D printers and similar mechanisms. Their designs are available in the public domain, however, meaning that no one claims copyright of them — and as such, the blueprints have been shared across the internet on various sites.
In fact, you could go to Google right now and search for 3D printed gun designs, and you’d find them easily. And you can do that while this judge’s injunction is in place, without ever going to Defense Distributed’s website.
As David French, an attorney, correctly noted in National Review, the judge’s order is both ineffective and unconstitutional:
His order is the equivalent of ordering the government to block a gun store’s website without touching the vast bulk of gun sales information already on the web. And note what else the judge did. He extended federal regulations designed to deal with the proliferation of weapons abroad to apply here at home. He changed the law. He modified its purpose and scope to match the intentions of the litigants in his courtroom. Once again, a federal judge has overstepped his constitutional bounds.
The judge is openly violating the First Amendment rights of a company to post gun blueprints — which can easily be shared in any number of other places — without any intent of 3D printing a gun.
And as if not to be outdone, the state attorneys general have made even more ludicrous claims in the days since the ruling. Washington state’s AG Bob Ferguson is leading the charge for anti-gun groups to censor Defense Distributed and others like them.
“These downloadable guns are unregistered and very difficult to detect, even with metal detectors, and will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history,” Ferguson said. “If the Trump Administration won’t keep us safe, we will.”
To borrow a line from Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi: “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.”
Stephen Gutowski, a journalist who specializes in guns, did a fantastic job debunking Ferguson’s claims on a factual basis. But what people are missing is the outright tyrannical power-grab being requested, first by the Obama administration, and now by state attorneys general like Bob Ferguson.
It’s tempting to laugh about trying to corral the internet and prevent anyone from spreading blueprints or any other knowledge. But it’s not an impossible task. We see this in places like China, who have their “Great Firewall” and other measures in place to crack down on dissidents.
In fact, Google, a company whose motto is “do no evil,” is helping China on that front, by building a search engine for them that censors any results the Chinese government doesn’t want the public to see.
Bob Ferguson is effectively advocating for the state and federal governments to have this same power. He and others like him want the government to target a specific form of content — in this case, blueprints for 3D guns — and actively go after it.
This power isn’t just censorship; it’s outright authoritarian and tyrannical.
And this totalitarian impulse is not a new one on the left. Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy alluded to the California state government as being a “relentless authoritarian regime” in a case where California was trying to compel specific groups to post pro-abortion messages in their buildings.
Fortunately, America has robust protections for speech. The state attorneys general in the Defense Distributed case lost several other injunction requests in other states before they found a judge in Seattle willing to give them what they wanted.
Unfortunately for those same AGs, Defense Distributed has attorney Josh Blackman on their team, one of the most prolific lawyers in America. (They’re in good hands.)
The restraining order will eventually be struck down because these state attorneys are grandstanding on an issue where the law is flatly against them. And this case will become nothing more than a footnote in judicial activism by another progressive judge.
But it’s worth remembering this is just another example of the progressive left becoming increasingly hostile toward the protection of free speech in America. These aren’t cherry-picked examples from some podunk college professor in the middle of nowhere.
These are real lawyers, serving in political capacities, for actual states.
The threat against free speech is real, and we must remain vigilant.