The Department of State settled with the Second Amendment Foundation, Cody Wilson, and his company Defense Distributed on Wednesday, dropping claims that posting firearms designs on the internet violated an arms export law.
In the settlement, the State Department has agreed to waive prior restraint, which was imposed in 2013 against the plaintiffs, allowing Wilson and Defense Distributed to begin posting gun designs on the internet again. They also agreed to pay for what plaintiffs described as a "significant portion" of their attorney's fees. Defense Distributed will also be refunded the $10,000 in registration fees it had paid to the State Department.
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Wilson said he believes the settlement was inevitable because he believes the State Department had a bad case.
"I think by the end DOJ realized they don't actually want to argue with this because it's such a stinker from a First Amendment point of view," Wilson told the Free Beacon. "So, I really think they needed to get out from under it and they already had the export control reform so they literally offered me a modification of the ITAR. They literally rewrite the ITAR for Defense Distributed in an anticipation of the change in the rules. Who knows when that happens, like a year from now. I don't know. All this suggests they really needed to run away from it because we took it down to the mat."
Wilson said his company is planning to launch Defcad.com as a new resource for posting and sharing gun designs.
"Basically, because of the settlement, if you submit to me and we post through Defcad by these new rules in the ITAR, that information becomes public domain and so it becomes for all time," Wilson said. "So let's say Oprah gets elected in 2020 or whatever, and decides ‘you know what this sucks, I’m not gonna do this anymore,' well, whatever got posted in the meantime on Defcad that's for all time, that's good, that's in the commons and nobody can come back and get that. And that's a very interesting thing that I don't think people understand yet."
He said that while he first gained notoriety over his innovative work with 3D-printed firearms and the State Department actions were in response to that, the settlement will allow people to share far more than designs intended for 3D-printers.
"People don't get what you mean when you say 3D," Wilson said. "We ain't just talking about 3D printers and liberator pistols. We're talking about all the engineered drawings, cad drawings, everything related to technical data of all the guns we know and care about. And, of course, the new things. The things we haven't seen yet."
Defcad, Wilson hopes, will become a hub for gun designers as well as hobbyists.
"We'll try to build a resource for our culture, our industry," he said. "Maybe it would help new companies form faster and other people collaborate together better. Because there's not really a standardized place right now."
He said the settlement will breathe new life into the online gun-rights community.
"The biggest takeaway is that this really is an opportunity for the Second Amendment to have new life on the Internet," Wilson told the Free Beacon. "It's not really about 3D printing. 3D printing's a good handle, but in essence that venture we had with 3D printing gave us access to a monopoly power to put all the data related to all guns on the Internet. It's a beautiful expansion. I would think it's actually difficult to overstate how important it might be to our movement."
Alan Gottlieb, Second Amendment Foundation founder, said the settlement was as much a win for the First Amendment as the Second.
"Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby," he said in a statement. "For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semiautomatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,' and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort."
Wilson said he expected the State Department's admission that AR-15s and other semiautomatic-only firearms are not inherently military weapons would be used in future litigation against bans on so-called assault weapons and other firearms.
"You've got the federal government being like literally for purposes of regulating weapons of war—the AR-15 is not a weapon of war," Wilson said. "You can take that to the bank. And I expect people will."
He said that while Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court may lead to future legal victories for the gun-rights movement, the settlement between his company and the State Department is a reason for gun-rights advocates to be happy right now.
"This stuff here is good Second Amendment news right now, not stuff you have to wait for two years from now," Wilson said.