Today, for a fee, you can purchase some of the most dangerous books known to man on Amazon.com.
For $3, you can buy Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” a book that indirectly led to the deaths of upwards of 100 million people worldwide. You can also purchase a copy of the “U.S. Army Improvised Munitions Handbook,” which promises “step-by-step instructions on how to assemble weapons and explosives from common and readily available materials.” Amazon sells hundreds of books teaching readers how to build guns (and the website even sells many of the tools necessary to do it).
Seeing this precedent, I uploaded a 3D printable gun file to Amazon … as a book.
In late-July, a federal judge signed off on a temporary order banning all Americans from sharing Defense Distributed’s 3D gun design files online. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is arguing in court that it is “highly questionable whether files that instruct a 3D printer to produce a gun at the push of a button are protected ‘speech’ at all.” Even worse, the judge believes this argument has a high likelihood of succeeding at trial.
This should terrify liberty lovers everywhere. The left is now arguing that, while Americans may have a right to keep and bear arms and a right to free speech, We the People have no right to speak about how to manufacture a firearm.
Any computer code is, in essence, nothing but a string of alphanumerical code instructing a program how to perform a certain task. In the case of 3D gun files, these .stl files instruct a computer program how to depict a firearm as a three-dimensional rendering. With that information, someone can write code to tell a 3D printer or CNC machine how to manufacture the image depicted in the file.
I took Defense Distributed’s Liberator pistol — a design that has been placed into the public domain — and rewrote the code into an ascii .stl file. In addition to making it easier to represent on the written page, this was done to protect me from any potential copyright claims. I then uploaded the text as a 2,500-plus page e-book and listed it for sale.
I never expected anyone to purchase the book and, frankly, I didn’t care if anyone did. This was simply to prove a point. Code is free speech, and if the left doesn’t understand that, maybe they would if it was published as a book.
To my surprise, my “book” not only sold, but it sold like hotcakes. After its first day of sales, it was listed as the “#1 New Release” in the Computer and Technology Education section. By day three, it became the “#1 Best Seller” in that section. By day five, it had peaked at the #3 Best Selling e-book in Amazon’s entire Education and Teaching section.
I was eager to prove a point, and hundreds of people out there wanted to help me prove it. But on day six, Amazon banned the book for violating their “content” standards, specifically for sharing “illegal” content.
Private companies undoubtedly have a right to decide which types of content to host. The First Amendment protects us against government-led assaults on free speech, not from private companies. I think it is a little disingenuous, however, for a company like Amazon to say that a string of unintelligible alphanumerical code is too dangerous for public consumption, but the U.S. Army’s guide to building improvised explosives is safe.
The question is, what happens when a federal judge’s unconstitutional injunction or a state attorney general’s unconstitutional lawsuit pushes a private company to ban specific types of content?
My book, “The Liberator: An .STL File Published as a Book,” was banned because it allegedly contains “illegal content.” Amazon believes that a text file that tells a computer how to render a 3D image of a gun is illegal because, well, state attorneys general convinced a federal judge to implement a nationwide injunction against them.
I live in Colorado. In addition to the rights afforded to me under the First Amendment, Colorado’s state constitution declares, “Every person shall be free to speak, write or publish whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuse of that liberty.”
I bring this up because the Colorado Attorney General’s Office has now joined the lawsuit that, after receiving the temporary injunction, compelled Amazon to change its publishing guidelines and take down my book.
What good is the First Amendment if government officials can pressure or compel private corporations into banning speech that the government would otherwise be prohibited from banning on its own?
This isn’t the first time we have seen something like this. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department labeled gun stores as “high risk” businesses under what they called “Operation Choke Point.” The goal was to pressure banks into dropping gun stores as clients. Fully-licensed gun dealers engaging in constitutionally protected commerce were dropped from their banks because of the federal government’s pressure. Obviously, banks have every right to decide with whom they want to do business. But for the government to encourage or compel them to drop licensed gun dealers is a clear affront to the Constitution.
While Amazon isn’t responding to my request for an appeal, they have responded to other users who were banned from using their services to share 3D printable gun files. In early August, Amazon Web Services — the part of the company that hosts client websites — issued a takedown notice against CodeIsFreeSpeech.com that cited the judge’s order. Amazon demanded that the website’s 3D gun files be removed “to prevent access to the reported content in order to comply with the received temporary restraining order.”
This becomes even more harrowing when you look at Democrat politicians’ plans for regulating the internet. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner has been circulating a white paper proposing broad new internet regulations designed to crack down on “disinformation” online.
Already, we are seeing tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit start to self-regulate to avoid these heavy-handed regulations. Government officials have these tech companies at virtual gun point, but we are being told that the people have no recourse under the First Amendment because the Constitution doesn’t apply to private corporations.
If the First Amendment precludes government officials from silencing Americans, what about when an official demands that companies self-regulate, or else? While my e-book was listed for sale, dozens of people left hilarious reviews. One of them sticks out in particular: “I tried to burn this book, but I couldn’t since it was on my Kindle.”
Nazi Germany called its book-burnings säuberung, meaning cleansing. Technically, those infamous book burnings were run by the German Student Union, not the Nazi Party. Officials set the standards for which types of literature were to be banned, but the actual burning was done by private organizations.
The modern säuberung is taking place right in front of our eyes. Not at the hands of government, but by monopolistic tech companies eager or forced to do its bidding. Yet, instead of using a tall pyre, today’s cleansing comes in the form of government-encouraged terms of service crackdowns and the online ban-hammer. The only question left is whether we’re going to sit back and take it.