A group of gun rights organizations filed suit in federal court on Tuesday claiming New Jersey is violating their First Amendment rights by threatening criminal charges against those who share gun blueprints online.
The Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearms Policy Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation, Calguns Foundation, California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, and Defense Distributed petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against state attorney general Gurbir Grewal's threat to prosecute the company hosting CodeIsFreeSpeech.com. The site is where a number of gun blueprints had been available for download. The group has also filed for declaratory and injunctive relief.
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"With a torrent of civil and criminal enforcement actions, Grewal is conducting a censorship campaign that expressly targets Defense Distributed's publication of digital firearms information and expressly targets its audience," the groups said in the complaint. "If anyone dares to share the information deemed illicit, Grewal swears that he ‘will come after you.' This state official wants so desperately to abridge the Second Amendment's right to bear Arms that he will do so by blatantly abridging the First Amendment's freedom of speech."
The lawsuit stems from a Feb. 2 takedown notice Grewal sent to Cloudflare, the company providing hosting to CodeIsFreeSpeech.com. In that notice, Grewal demands not only the removal of the gun blueprint files hosted on the site but the entire site.
"This is a notice to Cloudflare that you are serving files consisting of 3D printable firearms in violation of NJ Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-9 3(l)(2)," the notice read, according to the complaint. "These files are accessible via Cloudflare's New Jersey datacenter. You shall delete all files described within 24 hours or we will be forced to press charges in order to preserve the safety of the citizens of New Jersey."
Brandon Combs of the Firearms Policy Coalition said the threat of criminal prosecution for sharing computer files is a violation of the Constitution and prompted the groups to file their suit.
"After Cloudflare sent us the threat of prosecution they received from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office about CodeIsFreeSpeech.com, we believed that filing this case and seeking an injunction was the appropriate response to protect the people and constitutional rights at stake," Combs told the Washington Free Beacon. "I believe that the Constitution and case law on these issues clearly supports our claims. And we think that this case is the right vehicle to result in a decision that protects people against insane speech crimes, like the law Attorney General Grewal has threatened to enforce in New Jersey."
Defense Distributed, which prompted the legal fight by creating a database of gun files back in 2013—some of which are for guns more than one hundred years old and are commonly available in books and even printed on t-shirts—settled a dispute with the State Department last year that allowed the group to share the files online. However, the settlement led to a backlash from gun-control activists, and a number of Democratic attorneys general took legal action to block the sharing of the files. New Jersey passed a law criminalizing the publication of the files, with a punishment of up to five years in prison, which prompted Grewal to attempt to block their publication even beyond the borders of the state.
Paloma Heindorff, who became director of Defense Distributed in the wake of former director Cody Wilson resigning after being charged with sexual assault, has committed to continuing the work of the group despite the personal legal problems of its founder. She said the group remains dedicated to its goal of sharing the files online and is happy to fight Grewal in court.
"Defense Distributed is pleased to be fighting this obviously unconstitutional speech crime in New Jersey," Heindorff told the Free Beacon. "I think it will be a good lesson for the AG."