Startling advances in technology raise free speech and press issues in ways that we could not have anticipated even ten years ago. Such is the case with 3-D printable guns—handguns that people can manufacture at home using a software code and a special printer that makes three-dimensional objects. Printing guns at home can evade laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of unauthorized people. The plastic guns would be untraceable, and federal law prohibits guns that are undetectable by walk-through metal detection scanners at airports and other security checkpoints. If that’s the case, can the government prohibit the posting of computer code that makes possible the printing of guns?
Are 3-D printer designs protected by the First Amendment? This was the legal defense raised by Cody Wilson back in 2015, who faced prosecution for violating federal gun export laws after he created a gun with a 3-D printer and then posted the blueprints online for others to download and use.