The 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, and 3D Printed Guns

by Josh Blackman

We are standing at the dawn of the next great industrial revolution. With 3D printers people can print an infinite number of personalized and customized “things.” However, one manifestation of this bold new technology threatens to cast a specter on innovation: 3D printed guns. This Article explores how efforts to regulate, or even ban 3D guns, must satisfy constitutional scrutiny under both the First and Second Amendments.

The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms includes a subsidiary right to acquire arms—what else are you going to keep and bear—which covers both the buyer, and seller in the transaction. Further, the seller has to obtain guns, including newly manufactured firearms. Thus, the Second Amendment supply chain protects a right to make arms. These constitutional guarantees preserve the right to acquire and make firearms, by 3D printer or other means.

Prohibitions on sharing and receiving information about 3D guns, in the form of CAD source code files, violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The fact that information about 3D guns is distributed in electronic format does not shield it from the Bill of Rights. Further, the “hybrid” First and Second Amendment right offers heightened constitutional protections when the government attempts to restrict speech about the right to keep and bear arms.

This Article concludes by offering a preliminary analysis of several proposals to regulate 3D guns. First, laws that prohibit the manufacturing and possession of 3D guns, without a showing that the weapons are highly dangerous, would likely be unconstitutional. Second, bans on individuals making and possessing 3D guns for personal use would represent an unprecedented expansion of gun control laws, as there are virtually no regulations on homemade firearms. Third, the application of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (“ITAR”), designed to keep dangerous weapons and munitions out of the hands of foreign nationals is an ill-equipped, and as applied unconstitutional means to regulate 3D guns.

 

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