In its settlement of a free speech lawsuit, the federal government has agreed to acknowledge that popular semi-automatic sporting rifles such as the AR-15 are not inherently military weapons.
“Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby,” explained Alan M. Gottlieb, the founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.
Gun-control activists frequently argue that military weapons are not appropriate for consumer use.
But then they define consumer products such as the AR-15 to be a “military” weapon.
The new admission by the government could affect many proposed bans across the nation.
The case was filed by SAF several years ago against the federal government when the Obama administration restricted an internet posting of plans for a 3D printer to make a firearm.
It was filed in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas, on behalf of Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation. It named the Department of State, John Kerry and additional federal officials as defendants.
Cody Wilson, whose “Liberator” handgun reportedly was the first pistol intended to be built using only a 3D printer, had posted the plans on the web in 2013.
But the federal government immediately contacted him and told him the outline for using about a dozen plastic parts and a metal piece for a firing pin violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
The regulations require government approval for “export” of certain “technical” information.
Dave Workman, a spokesman for SAF, said at the time the government won’t be able to stop technology, and the real problem is not any individual weapon but irresponsible people.
After all, he pointed out, Henry Ford is not held liable for drunk drivers causing automobile accidents.
The complaint alleged: “Posting technical data on the internet is perhaps the most common and effective means of creating and disseminating information. A cursory search on Google and other internet search engines evidences that ITAR technical data is freely published in books, scientific journals and on the Internet.
“Plaintiff Defense Distributed publishes files on the internet as a means of fulfilling its primary missions to promote the right to keep and bear arms and to educate the public, and also to generate revenue with which to sustain itself,” it said.
Gottlieb said that for years, “anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort.”
His organization explained that under terms of the settlement, the government “has agreed to waive its prior restraint against the plaintiffs, allowing them to freely publish the 3D files and other information at issue.”
“The government has also agreed to pay a significant portion of the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, and to return $10,000 in State Department registration dues paid by Defense Distributed as a result of the prior restraint.”
The government admitted non-automatic firearms up to .50-caliber are not inherently military, SAF explained.
“Under this settlement,” Gottlieb said, “the government will draft and pursue regulatory amendments that eliminate ITAR control over the technical information at the center of this case. They will transfer export jurisdiction to the Commerce Department, which does not impose prior restraint on public speech. That will allow Defense Distributed and SAF to publish information about 3D technology.”
The original case also charged the government was violating the Second Amendment, because if “one cannot acquire or create arms, one cannot exercise Second Amendment rights. Infringing upon the creation and acquisition of arms of the kind in common use for traditional lawful purposes violates the Second Amendment.”
Prominent anti-gun activists, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were nearly in a panic.
“We’re facing a situation where anyone – a felon, a terrorist – can open a gun factory in their garage and the weapons they make will be undetectable. It’s stomach-churning,” he said at the time.
John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said at the time it would be futile to try to restrict technology, which, he said, “moves faster than government.”