Defense DistributedSteven Lieberman
Today I wander into extremely dangerous territory for me.
I am going to write about something of which I have very, very little technical knowledge: 3D-printed guns. I do have some knowledge about weapons in general. I possess a fairly robust knowledge of the tools that humans have used to kill one another throughout history. I also have a unique skill that many of you may not know about… I am an amateur blacksmith. Yep… my garage at home, for years, has existed as a smithy, complete with anvil, forge, and a crap-load of hardened steel for making all sorts of decorative products. Sandy usually has me manufacture hooks and pot hangers; but, occasionally, when the mood strikes I will make knives and hatchets. Now to be sure, these are not “tactical” looking things… quite the opposite; most of my knives and hatchets are purposely built for hunting and outdoor activities… and sometimes just for show.
I have had a number of people ask me about my thoughts relating to 3D-printed guns and, more specifically, the legal tribulations surrounding Defense Distributed’s desire to put these plans on the Internet for general use.
A little background: Defense Distributed (a manufacturing and design facility located in Texas) is owned and operated by a self-described anarchist. He believes that restrictions to knowledge, especially restrictions based on government edicts, are the very basis of tyranny. He and his team have developed 3D-printing plans that allow individuals with 3D printers to essentially “print” their own weapons.
Now here is the caveat… Defense Distributed is not the only game in town. In fact, a simple Google search will yield hundreds of plans for 3D-printing. Defense Distributed was the first to suggest putting the plans online, and the only one (to my knowledge) to have suffered a government restraining order preventing it from doing so. When that happened, others who were not named in the restraining order took up the mantel and put out plans.
So, the entire legal battle with Defense Distributed, as well as the government’s efforts to restrict people from accessing this information, is kind of a Kabuki Theatre. While politicians and judges wring their hands, the underlying information they seek to proscribe is already widely available to those who want it.
What is more troubling to me is the private restriction on information.
As I mentioned in a blog a couple of weeks ago, I am deeply troubled about government’s use of “agents” to restrict free speech. We are now looking at the corporatization of rights infringement.
Amazon has gone Fahrenheit 451 on us and banned the sale of the book, The Liberator Code Book: An Exercise in The Freedom of Speech. These are the codes, in printed form, for the printing of a 3D firearm.
Amazon (with, perhaps, pressure exerted from above) has decided that its modern “Library of Alexandria” should not include certain books… specifically this book… that, well… gives people the ability to act independently from regulatory authority. Mind you… this book does not teach people to do ANYTHING that is illegal. It does not advocate for a political view, nor does it even encourage people to engage in illegal conduct. It is simply a listing of code.
Do not worry, though… you can still get the Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, and The Anarchist Handbook, books that legitimately argued for the murder of millions.
Still… giving people the codes to 3D-print guns? Sacre Bleu! We cannot allow that to happen!
Back to my blacksmithing:
A few years back, I took some of the hardened-steel railroad ties I had accumulated and forged a primitive knife. It had a good blade, but looked God-awful. I did a little Internet digging, watched a series of videos, as well as pored through some of my blacksmithing books, and I learned techniques for developing a more, shall we say, acceptable-looking knife. My second knife looked better, but still looked like something a junior high student would make in a shop class. By the time I had made my sixth knife, they started to look pretty good.
The interesting point, though, is that all of these instruments I created were done with a singular purpose in mind: cutting.
They are absolutely lethal, and, unlike a gun that can be used for benign activity like target practice, a knife with an edge has only one utility: cutting things. Knives may be used for purposes which no one cares about, like chopping vegetables or cutting a steak… or they may enter into an activity that is polarizing, such as hunting and skinning. Lastly, these self-manufactured tools can, most assuredly, be used as weapons of self-defense.
Yet, no one frets about the free exchange of information among blacksmiths.
When Amazon decided to begin an exercise in the limiting of knowledge, it began walking down an extremely dangerous path, one that will inevitably result in the banning of further information in the future. Amazon made this Faustian bargain for a reason that still escapes me, unless it was made manifest from its own political bias, which is entirely possible.
Regardless, a compendium of knowledge must be free and accessible. If those who manage it begin to limit one form of speech, and not the other, then their actions become laughable and, ultimately, their utility to a free society becomes marginal. They begin this undertaking by trodding on a precarious ledge. When they do engage in this action, but the material is still widely accessible on other platforms, then they appear as clowns… self-righteous, sanctimonious, and feeble clowns, much as the direct actions of those in government appear by trying to restrict a single provider of information. They have become the Cavalry Officers demanding that their soldiers guard the door to the fort from the impending attack, when the fort has already been burned down and only the frame of the door remains.
Still… people making their own weapons without government oversight? What a terrifying thought! What is next? People growing their own food? Managing their own property? Deciding on their own with whom to associate, and which organizations to financially support?
What will become of us???