Thursday, October 5, 2023

Federal Judge Declares Firearms Computer Designs Unprotected by First Amendment

A federal judge in New Jersey, Judge Michael A. Shipp, determined that computer instructions, which can be used to manufacture firearms, aren't shielded by the First Amendment.

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In the lawsuit titled "Defense Distributed v. Platkin," Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) contested New Jersey's prohibition against distributing gun computer-aided design (CAD) files. Prior to the law's enactment, New Jersey had warned the company in 2018 against disseminating firearm-related information accessible to its residents. The company's Def Cad website provided CAD files that users could employ to 3D print guns. The state argued this act contravened its public nuisance and negligence laws.

In response, Defense Distributed cited First Amendment protections and said it would attempt to block New Jersey residents from accessing the files while evaluating its next steps. Despite these assurances, New Jersey pressed on, targeting the company’s web security providers, DreamHost and Cloudflare, asserting that Defense Distributed was in breach of New Jersey law.

In the wake of these events, New Jersey later enacted Senate Bill 2465, which criminalized the distribution of gun CAD files to non-federally licensed entities. At its introduction, Governor Phil Murphy declared the bill would provide the state with enhanced measures to counter Defense Distributed, its leader Cody Wilson, and their efforts to circulate files that enable the creation of untraceable guns.

Subsequently, Defense Distributed and SAF jointly sued New Jersey, asserting that the state's actions were unconstitutional. They argued that computer code falls under free speech protections. In his ruling, Judge Shipp posited that while certain case law does recognize computer code as a form of protected speech, CAD files, which communicate directly with machines and require minimal human interaction, are more functional than expressive. Thus, they don't qualify as "speech."

On the Second Amendment front, while Judge Shipp accepted that 3D printed guns qualify as protected “arms,” he denied that the CAD files themselves could be considered as such. Furthermore, he rejected a variety of claims the plaintiffs raised based on the Fourteenth Amendment.

The judge also repudiated the claim that New Jersey's law was too ambiguous, stating that an individual with reasonable intelligence would recognize any CAD file capable of producing a firearm as illegal within the state.

Though the ruling was not in Defense Distributed's favor, the company had anticipated such an outcome from Judge Shipp, who is known for his progressive stance, including on gun control issues. The company is now gearing up for an appeal to the Third Circuit, hoping to have their case consolidated with others in Texas, as desired by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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