...the good news is that the era of physible guns is already here, and it has made the Second Amendment debate effectively moot. The bad news is that the era of physible guns is here and it has made gun control into a First Amendment debate.
If you're an American of the constitutionalist ilk, you may think that the ability to keep and bear arms is a sacred right enshrined in the Second Amendment. Those who fear human liberty, on the other hand, will argue that you're trapped in an antiquated, 18th century mindset. And you know what? They're right. In the 21st century, the real legal battlefield in the war over gun rights will not be the Second Amendment, but the First Amendment.
You see, in the coming years our very concept of what actually constitutes an object will change radically. What matters now is not physical objects, but physibles. Yes, you read that right: physibles.
A physible is the digital blueprint for creating a physical object through technology like a 3D printer. It's not the finished product, but the recipe for that product. And just like a recipe for the perfect chocolate cake is more dangerous for your waistline than the cake itself (because it allows you to make thousands more of them), so to could the "recipe" for a physical object like a gun be more "dangerous" to would-be gun controllers than the gun itself, because with those instructions and the right piece of technology, anyone, anywhere can manufacture as many guns as they like.
Case in point: Defense Distributed, Inc. This is the corporation founded in 2012 by Ben Denio and Cody Wilson in order to "defend the human and civil right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court; to collaboratively produce, publish, and distribute to the public information and knowledge related to the digital manufacture of arms."
Talk about 'collaboratively producing, publishing and distributing' the knowledge of digital arms manufacture might sound like something out of some William Gibson-esque cyberpunk novel, but I have some news for you: The technology for doing just that is already here. Defense Distributed designed a physible, 3D-printed single shot handgun called "The Liberator" and released the plans for that gun on the internet in 2013.
The name "Liberator" is a nod to the FP-45 Liberator, a single-shot pistol manufactured by the US military during WWII for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA. The OSS intended the pistols to be dropped into occupied areas for use by resistance forces. The idea was that the pistols, capable of only a single use, would be effective not as a weapon of combat so much as a psychological weapon. Just the knowledge that those pistols were out there in the hands of civilian resistance forces would make occupation more difficult and effect the morale of the Axis troops.
The FP-45 didn't amount to much. Fewer than 25,000 of the half million manufactured were even distributed, and their use was never documented. And if Uncle Sam has his way, the Defense Distributed Liberator will go the way of the FP-45.
You see, within two days of Defense Distributed releasing the plans for the Liberator of the internet, the State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls sent a letter demanding that the plans be taken down. Their justification? The State Department's interest in protecting national security--specifically, from preventing foreign nationals from learning how to produce weapons and weapons parts--actually outweighs American citizens' right to free speech.
That's right, the possibility that someone in a nation hostile to the US might learn how to 3D print a one-time use pistol is apparently why the State Department is allowed to revoke the First Amendment and stop people from publishing information on the internet.
So this is how gun control has officially become a First Amendment issue.
As a result, Defense Distributed were forced to take down the plans (but not before they were downloaded 100,000 times). But Cody Wilson and the company he helped create have not given up their fight against the injunction. They have filed a lawsuit against the State Department challenging the take-down and plan to fight it all the way up to the Supreme Court if need be.
It's going to be an uphill battle. Just this past September the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request to stay the injunction against posting the plans while the case is being fought. Once again, the court ruled that the vaguely defined catch-all of "national security" trumps Americans' right to free speech:
"The fact that national security might be permanently harmed while Plaintiffs-Appellants' constitutional rights might be temporarily harmed strongly supports our conclusion that the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the balance in favor of national defense and national security."
So the good news is that the era of physible guns is already here, and it has made the Second Amendment debate effectively moot. The bad news is that the era of physible guns is here and it has made gun control into a First Amendment debate. And once again, the courts are not likely to be on the side of freedom.
For those who can't wait for the gears of injustice to do their thing, there's always Defense Distributed's other project, the "Ghost Gunner." Billed as "a general purpose CNC mill, built upon a large body of open source work, the grbl g-code parser and motion controller, and popular microcontrollers," it's essentially a do-it-yourself milling machine for one very particular purpose: milling holes in 80% lower receivers for AR-15s and AR-10s.
That's right, for $1500 plus shipping you can have access to fully functional, unregistered military-grade weapons. And, according to Wilson, the company has already sold thousands of Ghost Gunners.
What a world.