Can Data Still be Counted as Free Speech When the Data is a Gun Recipe?

By Erica Quinones

Elm Staff Writer

U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik placed a temporary restraining order on blueprints for 3-D printed firearms that were scheduled to be posted online on Aug. 1. For many, this was a victory. However, this is not the end. With the defendant, Cody Wilson, claiming he’ll “go to the Supreme Court” if needed, this controversy is just beginning.

The first demands for him to take down the files were made in 2013. Wilson decided to litigate the case, resulting in the federal government settling on June 22. That was quickly overturned with this latest decision. So, why is this case’s outcome so quick to change?

While the primary concern of most people interested in this case is gun control, Wilson has argued this is a violation of his First Amendment rights.

In his words, “I’m talking about files. I’m not talking about the guns. I’m not a licensed gun manufacturer. I don’t make guns at this location. I have data, I can share the data.”

That’s technically true. He is not selling physical guns, but he does sell a means to make them. To qualify as free speech, that speech must not enter any of nine categories. The category which Wilson argues against is that his “speech” incites violence. To determine if speech incites violence, we use the Brandenburg Test, which defines two elements that must be met: the speech is meant to produce “imminent lawless action” and the speech is “likely to incite or produce such action”.

While he does not say you should illegally print the guns, instead claiming that he’s “given you [the downloader] no productive capability,” the fact that he sells the data needed to produce a gun with additional machinery contradicts that.

He does not vocalize that he wishes for these blueprints to be used for violent purposes, but regarding the internet, the text is only part of the interpretation.

Messages are translated through everything from website layout to graphic design. The recommended list beside articles helps manipulate what information you receive, and when that recommendation is a milling machine which can make AR-15s, the message is clear. They exist to be built, so do it.

This should be less about the poster and more about the content. Wilson has a right to upload his content, but the damage it would cause should not be ignored.

In 2016, when Edgar Maddison Welch burst into a D.C. pizzeria with an AR-15 because online personalities told him it contained enslaved children, we could not ignore the influence of those people or their platforms.

They did not tell him to attack the restaurant, but the (mis)information spread was nearly lethal for those in the restaurant. In this case, when the information provided can directly lead to criminal activity, you cannot ignore it.

We spend too much time waiting for tragedies before we act. We need to be proactive in protecting ourselves. Just because this coincides with another constitutional amendment, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful. This isn’t a censoring of information, it’s basic gun control.

Until we have ways to prevent these blueprints from being turned into illegal weapons, their existence tempts and ultimately results in the enacting of “imminent lawless action.”

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