Guns in America: The DIY Specter

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 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.) 

add to sell specs for 3-D printed rifle

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 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:

screenshot of DD homepage

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

Who Fired the First Shot?

The Americanization of the Duel

Prominent Americans Shooting Each Other Up

‘Well Regulated’ Militias and the Right to Bear Arms

Where’s the Blaze of Glory

Prohibition and Gun Control

Smart Guns and the Folks Who Keep ‘Em Dumb

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8 Responses to Guns in America: The DIY Specter

  1. Henry Lewis says:

    This has been a great series of articles Ken. Thanks for educating us on such an important issue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • PromptCritical says:

      There’s not much education here because it misses the fundamental misconception about the files and manufacturing methods. The ONLY gun shown that is designed to be 3D printed is the liberator. It is a single shot pistol that will probably only fire a couple times (with a time-consuming and cumbersome reloading process) before exploding, and then, only if it’s made using the correct plastic. The stuff people usually use for 3D printing will explode on the first shot. You would have better luck building a metal zip-gun from hardware store parts. It’s nothing more than a proof of concept showing that a 3D printed object meeting the definition of a functional firearm can be made. 3D printing any of the other guns shown will simply result in an explosion if they manage to fire at all. Those guns are designed to be manufactured from forged and heat treated steel and aluminum. Made from dimensionally identical plastic yields nothing more than a model kit.

      As for the Ghost gunner, it automates the process of finishing an 80% receiver. Why 80%? Because that’s the threshold the ATF has determined legally separates a “firearm” from a “not-firearm”. Does one need a Ghost Gunner to do this? No. Plenty of 80% kits, made out of aluminum and plastic, are out there where the only tools required are a jig and a drill or router. No $2000 machine required. Making your own guns has been legal for literally the entire history of the country. It has been confined to mostly hobbyists, and anyone making guns for the purpose of selling them is required to be licensed by the government. Compared to the already large supply of guns already on the black market, this is utterly insignificant.

      Furthermore, the DefCad files have been on the internet and easy to find since about one minute after Wilson posted them. For instance has them, along with github, bittorrent, and any other of the probably hundreds or thousands of sites mirroring the files. The Liberator files have been available since he first posted them back in 2013. The internet never forgets and you can’t stop the signal. Instructions to make all manner of weapons (even illegal ones) are freely available in print and electronic form from hundreds of sources and constitute protected free speech. Not to mention that firearms, as a technology, are hundreds of years old and anyone with even a basic mechanical aptitude could figure out how to make one if desired.

      As a practical matter, none of this is deserving of running around screaming like a bunch of Chicken Littles. As a conceptual matter though, it all does point to the fact that gun control is basically futile, and we all have to get used to the fact that anyone, anywhere, might have a deadly weapon, regardless of legal bans and restrictions employed. But that’s always been the case anyway, and still, 99.99% of people don’t appear to be out there killing each other, regardless of ability to do so. Something to think about.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All of this is beyond my comprehension. Why not concentrate all that energy on good?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. pjlazos says:

    Aaaaaaargh!! Is it any wonder my stomach is always in knots these days??!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Guns in America: How’s It Working Out for Us? | off the leash

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