Proponents of creativity and the First Amendment are usually closely allied. Creativity often moves forward by challenging societal norms, by pushing the boundaries. As a former broadcast journalist and media attorney, I have a long history of supporting First Amendment causes, almost absolutely. That relationship is now being sorely tested by innovators using 3D printing technologies to create fully functioning weapon parts, including high capacity ammunition magazines.
A group called Defense Distributed is, in fact, dedicated to releasing plans for a 3D printed gun online. They have already released a video of the 3D printed AR-15 30 round ammunition magazine. The video has already been shown more than 240,000 times. Perhaps more disturbing the data file, which could be turned into an actual magazine with a 3D printer, has been downloaded more than 27,000 times.
A column I wrote on 3D printing a couple of weeks ago focused on its disruptive potential, quite possibly on a par with the Internet itself. The technology is already being used by the the military and industrial engineers. The fact that the printers can actually be used to create weaponry that can go undiscovered by meta and x-ray detectors means that regulation cannot be far behind. Congressman Steven Israel introduced legislation that would specifically ban plastic magazines:
“Background checks and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print high-capacity magazines at home. 3-D printing is a new technology that shows great promise, but also requires new guidelines. Law enforcement officials should have the power to stop keep homemade high-capacity magazines from proliferating with a Google search.”
Supporters like Defense Distributed have vociferously defended their efforts, citing the First and Second Amendments. Given the tone of the video, arms innovators are pressing their case. They’re holding the feet of liberal First Amendment activists to the fire, asking if they’re truly as liberal as they’d like to think. From my perspective, I don’t see the value in attaching absolutes to any principle. After the tragedy of Newton and daily shootings on a smaller though no less tragic scale, I’m personally willing to subordinate my freedom of speech to the the freedom to live safely in the pursuit of happiness.