You Can’t Have It Both Ways

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Gun control is control of all guns. This tautology, in a developed society, is non-negotiable. If guns can exist in our country, then gun plans can exist, and, although I’m firmly on the side of draconian control over most weapons, I find the move to ban Defense Distributed’s plans for their Liberator pistol unconscionable. Guns exist, so these plans, too, should exist.

To be clear, I think Cody Wilson’s ideas are libertarian claptrap. His jingoistic adoption of the Liberator name – the name of the simple guns airdropped on German-occupied territories to strike fear in the hearts of the Nazis – insults the memories of war dead. Even a pacifist would see the value in a last armed struggle against an enemy of unknowable power. Yet no pro-gun pundits see the supreme disconnection between the struggle of an unfree people and the rights of a gunshow weapons purveyor to a frictionless transaction. But even though we don’t need a Liberator, now have it.

And that is where I will defend these ridiculous plans to the end. Like the Anarchist Cookbook before it, the Liberator is the product of a fevered mind full of conspiracy theories and unrighteous anger coupled with a severe lack of self-awareness. The Cookbook’s author, 19-year-old William Powell, wrote his “treatise” as a reaction to the Vietnam War. He felt strongly enough that he would risk his life and limb – and the lives and limbs of countless other impressionable teens – by releasing a compendium of arguably risible improvised weaponry. But his right to publish, to produce, should never be in jeopardy. His aim was true but his target was wrong. The same goes for Wilson.

3D printing is an important new industry. It makes it as easy to play with plastic as BASIC made it easy to play with bits. I can foresee a situation where a child would design and print a plastic shiv or a fake grenade or any number of potentially dangerous items. This is how exploration works: you go to the extremes to understand the center.

I remember one summer – I was probably 11 or 12 – when my friends and I found some old glass doors in the back yard. My friends and I spent an afternoon cracking the glass and making “knives” – essentially finding pieces of glass we could hold on to without cutting ourselves. We named knives – Hawkeye, Samurai – and put them in a cloth-lined briefcase I used on my “spy missions.” My parents found us later in the the back yard playing with shattered glass. I was grounded. We never got the clubhouse. The same goes for the Liberator. The foolish mind will see a pane of glass and sees a knife. The wise mind sees the same door and will use it as the entrance to a greenhouse. That we didn’t see the useful application of these doors made us idiots.

We can fear 3D printing. Even if we ban every digital file, someone out there will make something dangerous and slap the sash of liberty on it. In the end we live in a world of chaos tempered solely by intelligence and compassion. It is my undying hope that those latter facets of our nature will win out and so I understand the value of tinkering. The speed with which Wilson ignored his own “No Takedown” rule shows us how stern and staunch a freedom fighter this boy really is. But I’d much rather see a vibrant – if sometimes misguided – marketplace of ideas than a culture of fear-mongering and bloviating. Only a fool would download and print Wilson’s gun. But, if guns can remain in our lockboxes and closets, it is the fool’s right to do so, no matter what.