Pandora’s Box for DIY Guns? 3D Printed Gun Plans Coming Soon
Russ Chastain 07.12.18
According to a recent article on Wired, online 3D-printed gun plans should soon become a thing again. This is after young Cody Wilson was lambasted by the Feds for uploading and distributing plans for a 3D printed single-shot 380 pistol on his website Defcad.com back in 2013.
Seeking to end gun control — or at least, touting DIY guns as the end of gun control as it was once known — was one of the points of his website. And after he made his pistol design public, it was downloaded more than 100,000 times. And then the hammer fell.
The law caught up. Less than a week later, Wilson received a letter from the US State Department demanding that he take down his printable-gun blueprints or face prosecution for violating federal export controls. Under an obscure set of US regulations known as the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Wilson was accused of exporting weapons without a license, just as if he’d shipped his plastic gun to Mexico rather than put a digital version of it on the Internet. He took Defcad.com offline, but his lawyer warned him that he still potentially faced millions of dollars in fines and years in prison simply for having made the file available to overseas downloaders for a few days. ‘I thought my life was over,’ Wilson says.
Far from that, however. Cody and others sued the U.S. government in 2015, claiming their First Amendment rights were being roundly violated.
Wilson and his team of lawyers focused their legal argument on a free speech claim: They pointed out that by forbidding Wilson from posting his 3-D-printable data, the State Department was not only violating his right to bear arms but his right to freely share information. By blurring the line between a gun and a digital file, Wilson had also successfully blurred the lines between the Second Amendment and the First.
‘If code is speech, the constitutional contradictions are evident,’ Wilson explained to WIRED when he first launched the lawsuit in 2015. ‘So what if this code is a gun?’
And he won. Two months ago, a settlement was offered by the Department of Justice, which pretty much agrees that Cody and his co-plaintiffs are correct.
The Department of Justice’s surprising settlement, confirmed in court documents earlier this month, essentially surrenders to that argument. It promises to change the export control rules surrounding any firearm below .50 caliber—with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and rare gun designs that use caseless ammunition—and move their regulation to the Commerce Department, which won’t try to police technical data about the guns posted on the public Internet. In the meantime, it gives Wilson a unique license to publish data about those weapons anywhere he chooses.
‘I consider it a truly grand thing,’ Wilson says. ‘It will be an irrevocable part of political life that guns are downloadable, and we helped to do that.’
Plans are in the works to re-launch Defcad.com, which currently has just a holding page in place, “as a repository of firearm blueprints they’ve been privately creating and collecting, from the original one-shot 3-D-printable pistol he fired in 2013 to AR-15 frames and more exotic DIY semi-automatic weapons.”
They also expect to host user-contributed gun designs.
The article’s author is clearly an anti-gunner — or is at least very pro-gun-control — and the article itself is incredibly long. The bottom line here is that, with any luck, it will soon be very possible to freely share DIY gun designs online, and that is a good thing.
All of that will be available to anyone anywhere in the world with an uncensored Internet connection, to download, alter, remix, and fabricate into lethal weapons with tools like 3-D printers and computer-controlled milling machines. ‘We’re doing the encyclopedic work of collecting this data and putting it into the commons,’ Wilson says. ‘What’s about to happen is a Cambrian explosion of the digital content related to firearms.’ He intends that database, and the inexorable evolution of homemade weapons it helps make possible, to serve as a kind of bulwark against all future gun control, demonstrating its futility by making access to weapons as ubiquitous as the Internet.
“I think I’ll go print me a gun.” Don’t you like the sound of that? I think it has a nice ring to it.