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Settlement Allows 3D Printed Gun Files to be Shared by Defense Distributed

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Turns out you can't stop the signal baby! Yesterday, it was announced Cody Wilson, Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. For those that don't recall, in 2013 Defense Distributed (Cody Wilson) created CAD files that could be used to 3D print a working gun known as the Liberator.

3d printed gun

Cody Wilson test firing a 3D-printed Liberator gun in 2013. Source: Defense Distributed

The Department of State quickly acted, sending Wilson a letter to remove the files, stating, in part, that “[t]he DTCC/END is conducting a review of technical data made publicly available by Defense Distributed through its 3D printing website,, the majority of which appear to be related to items in Category I of the USML. Defense Distributed may have released ITAR-controlled technical data without the required prior authorization from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), a violation of the ITAR.” See full text here. Simply put, the Department of State believed Wilson may have violated ITAR, which would open him to hefty penalties.


Wilson decided that he was not simply going to roll over and sued the United States Government alleging First and Second Amendment violations. He requested a preliminary injunction, which was ultimately denied by the district court. That denial was appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals where the Plaintiffs lost again. Wilson then filed a Petition for Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court which was denied in January of this year. With the case back in district court to be heard on the merits, the United States Government decided to settle the matter. 

From the Press Release:

Under terms of the settlement, the government has agreed to waive its prior restraint against the plaintiffs, allowing them to freely publish the 3-D files and other information at issue. The government has also agreed to pay a significant portion of the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, and to return $10,000 in State Department registration dues paid by Defense Distributed as a result of the prior restraint.

The Government settling the case is a significant victory for both First and Second Amendment rights. Notably, the Government acknowledged that “non-automatic firearms up to .50-caliber – including modern semi-auto sporting rifles such as the popular AR-15 and similar firearms – are not inherently military.” As Alan Gottlieb recounts, “[f]or years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort.”

It is unknown whether the rulemaking to implement changes to ITAR played any part in this agreement. Also noteworthy is that the letter was sent to Mr. Wilson back in 2013, when Obama was still in the White House. It is possible the administration change may have helped lead to this outcome, but it is mere speculation at this point. Time will tell whether the Government adopts the regulations which would remove the distribution of such files from the purview of ITAR entirely. 



Adam Kraut is a firearms law attorney practicing in southeastern PA and across the country federally. He hosts The Legal Brief, a show dedicated to crushing the various myths and misinformation around various areas of the gun world and The Gun Collective Podcast. He was also the general manager of a gun store in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Instagram: @theadamkraut
Twitter: @Kraut4NRA

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