David Frum

05.11.13

The Assassin's Gun: Internet Liberty Gone Way Too Far

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From my National Post column: when anti-social behavior masquerades as "free speech".

It’s not just bomb-making instructions and Daniel Pearl murder videos that you can find online. Joining them now is the world’s first downloadable gun.

Meet Cody Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas, who posted downloadable blueprints for a plastic handgun onto a server in New Zealand. The handgun’s components can then be “printed” and assembled by anyone, anywhere with access to 3D-printing technology. Three-dimensional printers create shapes out of sheets of plastic. At present, those printers are very expensive, but undoubtedly not for long.

Within 48 hours, Wilson’s gun blueprints were copied 100,000 times. They were uploaded onto other file-sharing systems all over the planet. On Thursday, Wilson received a letter from the U.S. government demanding that he take down his blueprints. Wilson has said he will comply, but of course it’s now far too late. His gun is available to anyone willing to undertake a few minutes of Internet research.

Wilson now insists he was just trying to start a conversation about appropriate government restrictions on Internet speech. “This is the conversation I want,” he said to Forbes magazine. “Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of the Internet and 3D printing?”

To paraphrase an old joke, however, you get a very different conversation with a question and a gun, than with a question alone.

Wilson, a libertarian activist, calls his gun “the Liberator” — implying that it will empower the beleaguered individual against the forces of state tyranny.

But you won’t be wanting to take “the Liberator” with you into the field against Bashar Assad’s goons. Wilson’s gun fires a single bullet at short range with limited accuracy. It’s main utility is its ability to pass a metal detector. It is, in other words, an assassin’s weapon.

Cody Williams has declared his purpose on his website, Defense Distributed: “to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court, through facilitating global access to, and the collaborative production of, information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms; and to publish and distribute … such information and knowledge in promotion of the public interest.” Wilson told an interviewer that he hoped “to literally materialize freedom.”

Anti-social behavior will always be with us. It’s the accompanying sermons that stick in the craw.

Read the rest at the National Post.