Nine Attorneys General, and Alyssa Milano, versus the First Amendment

Ban Censorship (RGBStock)

On July 30, National Public Radio reports, “[a] coalition of attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration  … to stop a Texas-based company from publishing instructions for 3D-printed guns on its website.”

In English: Nine state attorneys general want the federal government to censor the Internet, in violation of the First Amendment, for the purpose of making the Second Amendment less effectual.

Defense Distributed, a non-profit started by libertarian activist Cody Wilson, creates and publishes files that tell 3D printers and CNC milling machines how to make guns. After a five-year battle with the US State Department, which demanded censorship of these files on the risible claim that publishing them violated weapons export restrictions, Defense Distributed prevailed: The feds said uncle, paid the organization’s legal fees, and got out of the way.

Cue bizarre claims — actor/activist Alyssa Milano, writing on behalf of the anti-gun lobby, calls these files “downloadable guns”  in a CNN op-ed — open cries for Internet censorship, and a conspiracy of state attorneys general to give those cries legal effect.

We’ve been here before.  The 1873 Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use — parent act of the “Comstock laws,” so called after the priggish Postmaster General who pressed for their passage — provided that:

“Every obscene, lewd, or lascivious, and every filthy book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character, and every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use … is hereby declared to be a non-mailable matter …” The law provided for five years in prison and a $5,000 fine (more than $100,000 in 2018 dollars) for violators.

A century of resistance and legal challenges — led in part by an organization Ms. Milano avidly supports, Planned Parenthood — followed. It wasn’t until 1970 that Congress removed references to contraception from federal anti-obscenity laws.

I’m not surprised that the anti-gun lobby is throwing in with other pro-censorship lobbies (such as the anti-sex-worker lobby which recently got its own Internet censorship law, FOSTA, passed in the name of combating “human trafficking”).  Enemies of freedom may be evil, but they’re not stupid. They understand that freedom can only be successfully attacked by suppressing access to ideas and information.

Fortunately, defenders of freedom understand that too. Even if today’s Comstocks manage to shut down Defense Distributed like they shut down Backpage, the genies are already out of the bottle. Sex workers are already advertising elsewhere (and more securely). Defense Distributed’s gun plans have been downloaded thousands of times and made available via numerous publicly accessible venues.

The second round of the battle against Comstockery isn’t going to last a century. In fact, Comstock’s spiritual children have already lost — nothing short of shutting down the Internet, if even that, could possibly turn the tide for them.

Now it’s time to punish those rogue attorneys general — in court, in reputation, and at the ballot box.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


“Stand Your Ground”: A Good Law for Bad Situations

Gun photo from RGBStock

On July 26, Michael Drejka shot and killed Markeis McGlockton in a Clearwater, Florida parking lot. Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri declined to charge Drejka, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Outrage ensued.

It was just an argument over a parking spot, some say, hinting that the whole thing is Drejka’s fault in the first place because he  has a reputation for arguing about parking spots.

Drejka’s presumptive belief that shooting McGlockton was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” (as the “Stand Your Ground” law requires), they claim, was obviously not  “reasonable” (as the law also requires). They want Drejka charged with murder. Some want the law allegedly protecting his conduct repealed.

They’re wrong. Drejka’s belief that he was in danger of “imminent death or great bodily harm” was clearly reasonable, the law was clearly applicable, and his actions were clearly taken in self-defense. The video tells the story — not completely, of course, but with a measure of clarity.

Britany Jacobs pulls into the parking lot of Circle A Food Store. Even with several non-handicapped parking spaces available, she pulls into a handicapped-only spot. Her boyfriend (McGlockton) and their son exit the car and enter the store.

A short time later, Drejka pulls up, exits his own vehicle, steps behind Jacobs’s car to look at her plate, then begins to verbally remonstrate with her about illegally (and rudely) using a parking spot reserved for the handicapped.

McGlockton exits the store. Jacobs exits her car — whether to attack Drejka herself, or to distract him while McGlockton attacks, or for some other reason, is unclear. In any case, Drejka is still speaking to Jacobs and seemingly unaware of McGlockton’s presence when McGlockton knocks him to the ground.

At this point, Drejka is on his knees and likely dazed. He’s just been  violently assaulted, by surprise, out of the blue, by someone he  didn’t even know was there. His actual assailant and a second potential assailant are on their feet and may be preparing to do him more violence. He has neither a duty to retreat nor the ability to do so if he wants to.

It’s about five seconds from the time McGlockton attacks Drejka to the moment that Drejka shoots McGlockton. In that five seconds, Drejka has to determine whether or not he is at risk of “imminent death or great bodily harm” and act accordingly. His assessment, whether correct or not, is obviously within reason.

“Stand Your Ground” isn’t about cases in which the victim has ten minutes to make a decision while watching a known serial killer approach from afar, wearing a hockey mask, chainsaw in one hand and severed head of his last victim in the other. “Stand Your Ground” is about cases in which a victim has to make a difficult and almost certainly life-changing decision, in a very short time frame, and under extreme pressure.

Michael Drejka’s decision to defend himself wasn’t improper.

Markeis McGlockton’s decision to commit assault was the problem.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


JUUL Heist: Addicts Sue Company for Providing Their Fix

By Mylesclark96 [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Nitasha Tiku of Wired reports on three lawsuits against JUUL Labs, makers of the JUUL e-cigarette device. The unifying complaint, in brief, is that nicotine is addictive, that the users are addicted, and that their addictions are the company’s fault. There are quite a few problems with these lawsuits.

First, we’ve known for decades if not centuries that nicotine is addictive.  The US government made it official in 1988 with the Surgeon General’s report “The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction,” but my parents were certainly telling me so, and unsuccessfully urging me to not take up smoking, a decade before that.

School anti-smoking curricula warn kids about, among other things, nicotine’s addictive properties. We’re constantly bombarded by public service announcements on the subject. It’s on billboards. It’s in magazines. It’s on TV. To not know that  nicotine is addictive, one must have actively resisted listening to all the people telling one that nicotine is addictive.


Secondly, plaintiffs in two of the three cases admit that they were addicted to nicotine before they began using JUUL’s product to get away from their existing habits of smoking tobacco cigarettes. JUUL didn’t hook them. They were hooked before they ever chose JUUL as their preferred drug dealer.

The third case was filed on behalf of a minor. His mother’s attorneys claim that he’s so addicted that he “is unable to avoid Juuling” despite draconian parental and institutional measures.  It was illegal for that minor to procure a JUUL device. He did so anyway.  JUUL Labs requires proof that a buyer is 21 or older for direct sales (even though the legal age in many states is just 18), so he either got the device elsewhere or lied to get it from JUUL.

Yes, nicotine is addictive. The plaintiffs knew (or, in the minor’s case, at least should have known) that it was addictive before JUUL ever entered their lives. All JUUL did was offer them an arguably safer, and probably less socially awkward, way of getting their fixes.

These lawsuits are the equivalent of a heroin addict suing a needle exchange or methadone clinic for helping her avoid some of the worst potential consequences of her problem with alternative delivery methods for her drug of choice.

To narrow down the obvious theme: Their problems. Their choices. Their actions. Not JUUL’s. These lawsuits are, plain and simple, just opportunistic money grabs that should be peremptorily dismissed.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.