ITAR vs the First Amendment

Breaking news – the US State Department has informed Defense Distributed that posting 3D model blueprints is a violation of ITAR, essentially saying it is the legal equivalent of exporting firearms parts. They have ordered DD to take down its prints, not just of the Liberator pistol, but also of several other parts, including items that are not legally controlled in any way in the US, such as a flash hider and a VZ-58 sight. Of course, given the 100,000+ downloads and the information’s presence on bittorrent networks, one might as well try stuffing a genie back into its bottle (which, we are sure, is why Cody Wilson and DD are not appearing too distraught over the order).

Incidentally, this very ITAR issue is a large part of why we don’t post technical drawings here at Forgotten Weapons. Cody Wilson is a gung-ho law student itching for a fight; we’re gun geeks who would rather avoid Imperial entanglements.

The question, of course, is whether the government should have the power to prohibit free exchange of information. We think not, and we wish Wilson and DD all the best in their fight. We liked PGP, we like printable guns, and we like the idea of being able to discuss technical matters with friends worldwide without having to worry about Uncle Sam throwing us in prison for it.

Edited to add this recent video from DefDist:


  1. Yeah, it was coming. In this case, I think it’s actually accurate to some degree, the charges laid by the Feds that is. However, some of the provisions of ITAR are at odds with the 1A and in an ideal world would be null and void. That being said, you’re right in that there’s no stopping this now. I’ve always told folks (anti-gun folks in particular) that you can’t suppress knowledge that is in the body of the people, and blueprints such as these are a perfect example of that.

    Strange that it’s coming now, though, after the Feds gave him the OK to at least produce and sell the firearms and parts (in this case the parts that are considered the firearm). Perhaps not to distribute the blueprints…

    • A lot of times, seemingly odd and contrarian behaviour on the part of the Federal or State authorities stems from their having to interpret and strictly follow the rule of law regarding a given subject.

    • As I understand case law on ITAR, bearing in mind IANAL, distributing an electronic file of information can be made illegal because the 1st amendment doesn’t attach to it… print the same blueprint on sheets of processed tree bark, and it does.

      This is strangely parallel to the now deprecated view that the 2nd Amendment only applies to 1787 vintage flintlocks. But it seems to be the place the courts have arrived at.

  2. Bravo on the Star Wars reference! This is going to be fascinating to watch. I think the State Department overstepped their bounds on this.

  3. The potential implications of this are frightening, for example, will it become an offense to transmit say a re-loading manual, or a crappy Frank de Haas “single shot rifle” book across an international border?

    Rhetorical question for the regulars; at what point do my communications show up on the radar of some bureaucrat who possesses both the mentality of a parking warden, and the position to exercise that deformed mentality to the full?

    The precedent experience in Britain of a gifted gun tinker who taunted those who believed they had “authoriteh” is not pleasant; the terms “kidnap”, “disappeared”, and “sippenhaft” all come to mind. each of them in itself infringing a UN declaration.

    I suspect that the young gentleman at DD has done his home work (probably much better than the bureautwats have done theirs), and I’m reminded of a children’s rhyme and of a scene from Men in Black 1

    There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly…
    … There was an old lady who swallowed a horse – she’s dead – of course.

    I wish DD the best of luck.

  4. I am following the developments in the USA from a distance and I am amazed how easy civil liberties can evaporate by just yelling “terrorism” very loud. The second amendment may be a very difficult to understand concept for us Dutchies, but I understand better every day why your founding fathers put some serious distrust of government in the constitution.

    • The ideas which John Lock developed and which inspired the colonists in the mid 18th century, probably originated in the Low Countries some time in the 16th or 17th centuries.

    • Eric, that’s a very astute observation. It is most unfortunate that the catch-phrase “terrorism” has been used ( abused? ) to justify all sorts of reactive rules and behaviours that often defy common sense, and which waste everyone’s time and resources by generically clamping down on ordinary citizenry instead of focusing in an integrated manner where it matters : On potential terrorists and criminals, and the real root causes that spawn them — socio-economic inequities, political disenfranchisement, mental health issues, and insufficient inculcation of ethics, civics and proper education, to name a few. The long-term ramification of this attempt at increased external control is that once said control is fully established via rule of law, it will be more difficult ( but not impossible ) to get those who wield it to give it up when the circumstances that necessitated that control have passed. That is human nature, in keeping with what Nietzche recognized as “the will to power”. One can also see variations of this that have long been in existence, or are starting to arise, in other countries, too.

  5. The genie has been out of the bottle for some time. Prior to 3D printing inexpensive machine tools available to hobbyists allow the creation of rudimentary firearms. I remind you that PPsH 43s were cranked out in bicycle shops. I do not advocate the construction of home built firearms, just trying to state facts. Where there is a will there will be a way. The concept of the Liberator 3D model scares the hell out of the government mostly due to the fact it can’t be detected by standard entry metal detectors. I suspect that it will show up on the neutron back-scatter devices currently being utilized in airports, and of course the grope. Still, this is driving them nuts which could be a dangerous thing in itself.

    • Speaking as a guy who has done some homebuilding of guns in the garage (which I do advocate, at least here in the US where it’s legal), I’ll be the first one to say that it’s not a new development. The potential to use 3D printers to do it is a huge thing, though – particularly given the advances we can reasonably predict in 3D printing technology.

  6. I’m commenting while eating a late lunch – never a good way to produce carefully considered comments,

    Eric and David have reminded me, in the “yin and yang” of this

    why are the politicians and the bureaucrats so frightened of plebs having guns?

    we don’t know why they are so frightened – but their consciences know exactly why they are frightened.

  7. First firearms, then faith (i.e., the bible, the Torah, the Koran – fat chance there – the left is in the tank for that), then anything deemed unacceptable by the tyrants in DC…this is their Trojan Horse to undermine the FIRST as well as the SECOND amendments…

  8. I think it is from a push to “do something”. Plans were drawn up and included in a book sold since the 1970’s (or so) that showed how to make a 22 pistol from a block of hardwood, rubber bands, and a nail. Other than requiring $50 worth of stuff from Home Depot instead of an $8,000 3D printer, not sure what the difference is.

    Governments that support terrorism or at least aren’t picky who they sell to, could make fiberglass single shot pistols by the crate full all day long. Undetectible single shot pistols are not that meaningful in terrorism when a bomb of equal size can do several times more damage.

    The original liberator was (as everyone reading this already knows) was to be dropped into occupied territory so the occupied could use them to get a real gun from the occupiers. I don’t expect the Gestapo was amused by the original Liberator either.

    The bigger issue is that ~20 years ago there were really no more than a dozen domestic gun manufacturers of any real size. They could (maybe) be controlled by threatening to withdraw government contracts or by liability suits (remember S&W capitulating to Clinton). Hobbyists could make guns, but without home CNC it was a labor of love only highly skilled machinists could indulge in.

    Now there are easily over a dozen companies making just AR15’s. CNC is available to home hobbyists. G code can be emailed. It is a huge game changer, the genie really is out of the bottle.

    Ultimate take sways ought to be, for any big brother types, give it up. And if anyone wants to prevent future Newtowns, reopen the shuttered Fairfield State Hospital in Newton and put away the Adam Lanza’s before they let loose. When Fairfield, and almost every other mental hospital was closed, politicians gleefully set out to make all society a sort of low grade asylum, one big rubber room, overseen by a Federal nurse Ratched. Sorry guys, isn’t going to work. Put the truly insane in a safe environment and let free people be free.

  9. ITAR has been around for a long time, and “how to” information was always part of the regulations. So this isn’t really surprising. High precision milling machines were restricted because you could use them to make silent submarine propellers. It will get iffy when they us the same logic to declare any 3D printer (and the info on how to build one) a dual-use item and start regulating those.

    • I agree, it isn’t really surprising. But what is different this time (rather like the ITAR case with PGP) is that the “items” in question are nothing more than digital information, and they are something visible to the general public. It’ll be interesting to see the fallout. With torrent networks, it’s impossible to contain data like this – when PGP was the issue is at least had to be hosted somewhere to be available for public download. Now the data is available via a non-centralized network already working hard to avoid regulation. “You can’t stop the signal, Mal…”

      • The disenfranchised former gate keepers to information would dearly like that flow of information stopped and handed back to them to control – as would their symbiants, the politicians and nomenklatura.

        The ultimate target here isn’t a printable plastic gun, it’s the free flow of information on the net.

        • I don’t think they hit Cody with the ITAR hammer because of where he was right now, with the iffy single-shot Liberator or the Feinstein or Cuomo mags.

          They hammered him (or are trying to; the guy who signed the letter isn’t some compliance weenie, but the head weenie of the shop that does exclusively criminal investigations) because of where they think his project is going.

          For those of you who grew up with western hemisphere baseball, this was a brush-back pitch. Not sure if there’s a football (soccer) equivalent for the rest of the world. To change metaphoric scenery, a shot across the bow, perhaps.

  10. Whole itar thing is just retarded anyways, even with hard goods if export would be to individuals to a another country not under any international embargo, especially when the items are just small arms and their accessories. Sensitive and advanced technologies like wmd, jet fighters and such, technology that enables to develop such is another thing, but banning or greatly hindering export of such a basic thing as pistols, rifles, shotguns, optics and such is just like shooting ones self in the foot, it only prohibits business opportunities to US manufactures and results in loss of revenue, which is idiotic.

  11. so is that why technical drawings of classic firearms are so damn hard to find? man that’s a pain in my ass

  12. ITAR’s been used to cause a whole world of hurt in many fields outside of directly small-arms related data. There’s a whole world of research in computing science, and other fields of academia that cannot legally be transmitted outside the USA courtesy of ITAR.

    My weirdest personal experience? Being denied access to a Mossberg 500/590 Armorer’s course. Apparently it’s OK for the company I work for to import, distribute, and retail the shotguns, but not to know how to maintain them? The phrase ‘controlled knowledge’ is a weird one.

    • Guess it depends on who is doing the disseminating. I seem to remember GPS technology and rocket booster tech being exported to China by the Clinton administration under the guidance of enhancing China’s ability to launch commercial satellites. This of course also had the net result of improving China’s ICBM capability and increasing warhead targeting capability tenfold. This “help” brought China from what was considered a third rate nuclear power to top tier thermo-nuclear player. Most of America slept right through it.

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