In my last Guns in America post I talked about how technology may hold the promise to make guns safer. That is by producing smart guns that recognize the owner and prevent firing by anyone else. There is another aspect of technology that could dramatically change gun ownership and make it anything but safer. That technology is 3-D printing and it can and has already been used to manufacture guns.
3-D printed guns need not be registered and may be printed by felons, suspected terrorists, people with mental illnesses, minors and others who may be restricted from conventional gun ownership. You don’t go through a background check before you print your own gun. 3-D guns aren’t traceable by law enforcement. Made of plastic, they can pass by metal detectors in the airport, in government buildings and in stadiums and arenas and are easily destroyed if the sheriff’s on your tail..
The first 3-D printed gun was produced by a 30-something Texan named Cody Wilson, a self-described crypto-anarchist, whatever that is. In 2013 he produced a plastic pistol called the Liberator. Wilson founded a company called Defense Distributed. One of the goals of Defense Distributed was to make the blueprints for 3-D printed guns freely available online. Below is a screenshot of Defense Distributed’s defcad.com page which offers a schema for the 3-D printing of an AR-15 rifle. (The AR-15 is the rifle used by the hater in Pittsburgh to murder 11 people in a synagogue last Saturday.)
The company also sells a machine called the Ghost Gunner which can be used to carve gun components out of aluminum. They claim to have sold 6,000 of these units.
One of Wilson’s other ventures was a crowd-funding Web site called Hatreon which catered to the nazis and white supremacists who go kicked off of the more mainstream sites. Just last month we got a further look into Wilson’s character when he was arrested in Taiwan and accused of sexual assault. The charges stem from Wilson having allegedly paid a 16-year-old girl $500 for sex after having met her on the dating site SugarDaddyMeet.com. Taiwan doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S. but the Taiwanese apparently wanted nothing to do with this guy and shipped him right back. Wilson has since resigned his position at Defense Distributed.
Wilson’s plans to make the blueprints for 3-D printing of guns available on the internet set off a long string of litigation. After the Liberator was unveiled in 2013 the Obama State Department issued a restraining order to prevent Defense Distributed from making the schemata openly available online. Two years later the company, along with a gun advocacy group called the Second Amendment Foundation, sued the State Department claiming the restraining order was a violation of their First Amendment rights. Then along came Trump and this past July the State Department settled with Defense Distributed, not only allowing them to publish their gun printing blueprints but actually paying part of their legal fees.
That settlement, which was due to go into effect Aug. 1, prompted a suit by eight states, including New Jersey, to block the publication of the gun blueprints. They got a favorable ruling from Seattle Federal Judge Robert Lasnik who opined “the states are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn and that, over all, the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pendency of this litigation.” Since that ruling the number of states that joined the lawsuit has grown to 19.
The Defense Distributed home page now looks like this:
Wilson has nonetheless continued to make the gun blueprints available. He claims he is following the judge’s ruling to not make them freely available on the Web site but is instead charging for them (pay what you wish) and shipping them off via email.
Yesterday the New Jersey State Legislature passed a bill that prohibits the distribution of programming files used to create guns on 3-D printers and bans the purchase or assembly of gun components without serial numbers. The vote in the state Senate was 31-0.
In the history of the internet we have not seen a government or an industry or a law that has been completely successful in shutting off the flow of information. Wilson, who is likely on his way to jail, can be shutdown, but there are many others ready to take his place. As Vox reporter German Lopez comments: “The technology is out there, and the information is inevitably going to end up on the internet at some point.”
If it’s any consolation I did find a comment on a reddit group by a guy who calls himself SpoopyTheGreat and claims to be a gun advocate and an experienced 3-D printer operator saying of these plastic guns “I just want to say that I would never consider firing one of these. Basically, you’d be lucky to fire more than a couple of shots before having that small shrapnel bomb of a gun detonate a few feet from your face.” Sounds like chaos.
Other Guns in America posts