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3D-printed gun plans’ restriction faces growing resistance

December 26, 2018 GMT

Thousands of people visited Brandon Combs’ website over the last month, perusing the blueprints for 3D-printed guns he’s made available for free to the public.

He says he doesn’t track downloads, but there’s no doubt the plans are being saved to Americans’ hard drives, spreading as part of the internet’s resistance to Judge Robert S. Lasnik ruling over the summer that sought to restrict distribution.

Judge Lasnik had scuttled a deal between the Trump administration and Defense Distributed, a Texas company that specialized in plans for do-it-yourself plastic guns, which had envisioned an Aug. 1 launch date.

Mr. Combs is one of a number of free-speech advocates who say the plans are protected speech under the First Amendment and that blocking their publication online is a violation of the Constitution.

“We’ve not been shy about the platform’s existence we’ve definitely believed that the First Amendment protects this speech and conduct,” he said.

Blueprints for making plastic firearms using 3D-printers are testing the limits of gun control.

While producing an undetectable weapon is already illegal under federal law, Mr. Combs and other activists say the plans themselves aren’t weapons.

Some states say there’s not much difference. New Jersey recently passed a law that places new restrictions on people who try to share the blueprints with others in the state.

The Second Amendment Foundation and Defense Distributed have asked for a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the law, saying it’s a violation of their First Amendment rights.

“It’s a very broad statute,” said Josh Blackman, an attorney for Defense Distributed.

New Jersey officials say it’s a matter of public safety.

“Ghost guns can be created by anyone with a computer and access to a 3D printer, giving the public at large the ability to build their own unregistered, unsafe and untraceable firearm,” Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said when he signed the bill last month. “Kits to assemble ghost guns will no longer be allowed in New Jersey.”

Facebook over the summer said it was banning pages that shared the plans, but that appeared to push the market into the deep web.

Gun-control advocates say that while they may not be able to claw back the files already downloaded from Mr. Combs’ site and others, they can try to block plans from being shared any more.

Congress should look into it next year, said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“To some extent it’s a tough issue, but there are many different kinds of blueprints that you can publish and make available,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s equally a worthy goal to ensure no further blueprints are published, and that’s our focus.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said he planned to put the issue near the top of his list as Congress takes another look at new gun control measures next year.

“That is absolute insanity to allow people to be able to download guns and then use them,” he said.

Asked what recourse there would be, since so many files are already online, Mr. Markey said the penalties were still to be determined.

“But we can’t leave this whole area just to the wild west of internet technology, because the consequences for real people on the streets of America [and] all across the world as well [are] going to be catastrophic,” he said.

Mr. Combs, though, said he doesn’t see a coherent legal case they can make for scrubbing existing files from the internet.

“I don’t think that there is any recourse for them, unless they think that there’s some sort of an enforcement action they can take,” he said. “But even there, I do believe that the Constitution prevails against whatever policy arguments they might make.”