Here’s why restrictions on 3D guns would violate the First Amendment as well as the Second

Gun control advocates don’t just have a problem with the Second Amendment – they also have real problems with the First Amendment. In an era when people can use 3D metal printers to make guns, does the First Amendment protect a book detailing a gun-manufacturing process – but not a computer file that does the same thing?

The question has become particularly urgent. The computer programs that tell 3D printers how to produce these guns were scheduled to be legally downloadable Wednesday. However, on Tuesday U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order blocking the downloads until a hearing Aug. 10.

Lasnik's order came in response to a lawsuit filed by Democratic attorneys general in eight states seeking an emergency injunction to stop the legal downloads. They argued the downloads would create a “great detriment of the public and public safety.”

Even President Trump weighed in with a tweet Tuesday saying: “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

The courts have previously weighed in on a similar First Amendment question. In 2010, the Supreme Court found that the First Amendment protects violent video games in the same way that newspapers and books are protected.

A 2001 decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, said: “Communication does not lose constitutional protection as ‘speech’ simply because it is expressed in the language of computer code.”

If you believe gun control advocates, 3D printers will undermine all our gun control laws, letting criminals avoid background checks and making it impossible to ban types of guns. But gun control advocates don’t understand the technology has already outpaced the ability of government to regulate it.

If they want, criminals can already print guns. The change that had been scheduled to take place Wednesday would have had no noticeable impact on criminals avoiding background checks and obtaining guns illegally, because the existing laws aren’t stopping them. 

With a 3D metal printer, people can use these computer files to make metal guns functionally and visually indistinguishable from a store-bought gun. Metal printers with the capacity to build a firearm are running at less than $10,000, and the price continues to drop.

The printers allow people to make so-called “ghost guns,” which don’t have registered serial numbers and aren’t made by regulated gun makers. Disaster is said to be imminent.

A Washington Post editorial this past Sunday had no problem with exceptions to the First Amendment and warned that posting these computer programs will eviscerate gun control laws and “lead directly to the loss of more innocent lives.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned the 3D-printed guns would lead to a “gut-wrenching epidemic of gun violence.” Twenty-one state attorneys general – all but one a Democrat – wrote the Trump administration claiming printed guns would create “an unprecedented impact on public safety.”

In May 2013, then 25-year-old Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson uploaded a computer file with instructions for 3D printers to make a predominantly plastic gun. Within just two days, 100,000 copies of the blueprint were downloaded around the world. Within a week, the file was available on over 4,000 computers around the world. 

Legal computer programs or not, it doesn’t matter: as we've seen with movies, file sharing is unstoppable. The most pirated TV program in 2017 was Season 7 of “Game of Thrones,” with well over 10 million illegal downloads in most weeks.

You also don’t even need these computer files to print a gun. One can take apart a gun and take pictures of each part, then use a photogrammetry program that links together the different images to create 3D images.

Proposals to treat printers like guns and require background checks, mandatory serial numbers, and even a registration process before they can be purchased are easily circumvented.

Even if the government registered printers, gangs could steal them or try to buy them illegally. You can even make your own printer from designs that have been available for years on the Internet.

When 3D printers are used to make guns, gun control advocates are out of a job. Anyone will be able to go into the illegal gun-making business.

Of course, people with a machine shop can already make guns. But 3D printers no longer require even the most basic skills. Just download blueprints or scan images of the parts that you want copied, load the metal printing cartridge, and press “print.”

Forget about banning high-capacity bullet magazines. Many parts of a gun can be made with very inexpensive, plastic 3D printers or even simple machine tools.

It’s a dirty little secret of the gun control debate that background checks are already pretty useless in keeping guns out of criminal hands. The war on guns has failed as badly as the war on drugs. Incidentally, the same drug dealers supply both items.

Every place that has banned either all guns or all handguns has seen an increase in murders. This is for the simple reason that primarily law-abiding people obey the bans. Enacting a law and enforcing it are two entirely separate things.

Possibly the coming months will finally make it obvious to everyone that gun control doesn’t work. Despite gun control advocates making apocalyptic claims of imminent disaster, if legal downloads of blueprints for guns are eventually legal it won't make a noticeable difference.

The same people decrying 3D-printed guns predicted skyrocketing crime rates after the federal assault weapon ban sunset in 2004 or when state after state has passed concealed handgun laws. Gun control advocates make extreme predictions and then hope no one will remember what they promised. This latest scare will be no different.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of nine books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies (August 1, 2016). Follow him on Twitter @johnrlottjr.