Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The 3D Printed Gun, And The Shameful Extremist Behind it

The world's first functional 3D printed gun
(UPDATED -- see below)

What would you think of a person who hands a gun, free of charge, no questions asked, to every complete stranger they came across?  Is this insanity, or an example of “freedom?” 

What if the person giving away the guns knew that some of the recipients were felons, domestic abusers, or even terrorists?  Is he a hero of “liberty,” or does this make him an accomplice to murder?

Now, what if the person giving away the guns did so for purely ideological, insurrectionist reasons, advocating for the downfall of all governments?  Is this some sort of honorable libertarian ideal, or the act of a terrorist?

Finally, what if, instead of giving away free guns, he instead gave away plans on how to make them cheaply and secretly? 

Let me introduce you to Cody Wilson and his organization of volunteers, called Defense Distributed.  Wilson has done something not publically done before:  he has used a 3D printer to make plastic assault weapon parts, high-capacity magazines, and, now, a fully-functional gun in its entirety, and distributed the plans for printing them to the entire world, free of charge.

And the plans have been downloaded to the tune of 50,000 downloads on its first day.

The gun he made, which he calls the “Liberator” (designed after a gun dropped behind enemy lines in WWII Europe, China, and the Philippines to aid resistance fighters), is entirely made out of plastic except for a nail for the firing pin and a tiny lump of metal to skirt the law against plastic firearms (the Undetectable Firearms Act, due to expire at the end of 2013).  Of course, the lump of metal is completely unnecessary to the workings of the gun, and anyone printing their own from his plans can omit the lump completely.  Being made of plastic, it is invisible to metal detectors.

And it works.  See below for a video of a test-firing with a .380 handgun round:

No doubt the gun manufacturers, themselves, have been making 3D prints of gun components for years, as part of their R&D, just as engineers and designers do in a wide range of fields.  The difference is that the printed gun parts aren’t intended as the final product, and, more importantly, they don’t share the plans with the rest of the world and whatever nefarious purposes people may have for them. 

It'll be interesting to see if the NRA says anything about this. Will they applaud this invention, given their "more guns in more hands is good" philosophy?  Or will they denounce it, since it would be taking away sales from the chief benefactor of the NRA: gun manufacturers?

Mr. Wilson doesn’t give a damn that his designs could fall into the wrong hands.  He has said so publically.  HERE in an interview with anti-government extremist Alex Jones, Wilson takes pride in the fact that his designs are “on the web forever” and completely unregulated, able to be accessed by anyone, from terrorists to anarchists like himself (another thing he takes pride in).  And he funds 99% of his efforts using Bitcoin, increasingly the currency of drug dealers and illegal arms sellers around the world.

In some interviews, Mr. Wilson has said that this isn’t a “second amendment thing,” but instead plays up the anarchist viewpoint, basically saying that he does it to remove governmental control over some aspect of society.  In one Popular Science Magazine interview, he even suggested he did it as some sort of test of the technology:
I tell people sometimes “we’re not making a Second Amendment argument.” The basic idea is to take a technology, play futurist, and surprise people. What can you do?

But don’t be fooled.  Mr. Wilson is a hardcore gun nut and insurrectionist.  Consider this quote from him, when asked in that interview if his invention is “the right thing to do”:

I heard Joe Scarborough say this, and this is a flagrant example. He said “I was a Second Amendment supporter but this has made me change my mind.” Well, then you never really were serious about it.

Apparently, to be “serious” about the Second Amendment, according to Wilson, you have to be willing to subvert the government.

Wilson even calls himself a “virtue-terrorist”.  And has expressed his insurrectionist philosophy thusly:

Beck, in his January interview, asked Wilson an obvious question: Does he have any concerns over the ends to which this kind of technology can be put?  “We’re doing this project and using this tech as a form of resistance,” the virtue-terrorist replied. “Of course we have concerns at the end of the day, but we see liberty under threat; we see sovereignty under threat. We must respond.”

And when asked about whether he is concerned that kids and other prohibited people could now print a gun using this technology and his designs, Mr. Wilson completely shrugs it off:

This is what so many people say--“well, the mentally ill, felons, and children will all have printable guns.” Well, yeah, sorry, but this is one of the negative dimensions when you lower the barriers to entry for certain things. It just is. So you must have a culture that is prepared to accept and adapt to these kind of realities, instead of pretending with these regulationist ideas that we’re still stuck in. We still just pretend that things are going to keep going the way they’re going--that somehow we’re going to have the resources and the state power to watch everyone’s 3-D printer. That’s absurd. So let’s accommodate.

Yes, that’s right.  Sure, the mentally ill, children or felons can now print their own gun, but, oh well, let’s just accommodate them.

Otherwise known as aiding and abetting.

Currently, the cost of a 3D printer like the one Wilson used runs many thousands of dollars.  Given that anyone (felon, mentally ill, whatever) can purchase a gun from a private seller, no questions asked, just about anywhere in the nation, printing a gun is far more inconvenient and costly.  But the cost becomes worthwhile if you are a prohibited person who is plotting to take a gun through metal detectors (say, in a courthouse, state building, or the U.S. Capitol) and commit an assassination, or if you are an international terrorist organization plotting an attack.  Wilson just saved the terrorists a lot of development time.  I’m sure he’s proud of that and justifies it behind talk of “liberty.”  I wonder what he will think when people start dying as a result.

Beyond a doubt, calmer heads will want to regulate these things. I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect this is one example in which technology may have raced ahead of the law. Is Defense Distributed selling guns or information? Is this a gun control issue or a First Amendment issue? Can the printers be regulated to refuse to print weapons, or could new designs simply circumvent existing prohibited products? 
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, has expressed interest in legislation to block printable guns, so we'll see where it leads. As he puts it, "We're facing a situation where anyone -- a felon, a terrorist -- can open a gun factory in their garage and the weapons they make will be undetectable. It's stomach-churning." It seems that way. 
Don't get me wrong. I'm probably about as neutral as anyone can be on the issue of gun control. I believe law abiding citizens have constitutional rights to own weapons. But at the same time I believe in reasonable safeguards to make sure access to firearms is limited from criminals and those with chronic mental illnesses. 
In this sense, to me, printable guns are a step in the wrong direction. Granted, the actual impact of printable guns on societal violence is obviously unknown. Perhaps they'll remain so unreliable or difficult to assemble from the individual pieces that the impact will be negligible. Or perhaps not. 
Some have described Defense Distributed's efforts as a kind of political performance art. Very funny, Defense Distributed. We get it. I just hope we don't regret it.

And let's not forget that if someone out there does try to replicate Wilson's design, there's a pretty serious chance that they'll use too weak of plastic and wind up blowing off some fingers upon trying to fire the thing.  Of course, Wilson cares not at all for such concerns.  Public safety isn't a concern of his.

Believe it or not, a relative of mine (who is a teacher now) actually went to high school with Cody Wilson.  She describes him as being “nice and funny”, but “He was a fringe person. Part of the group in school that weren't quite Goths, but looking back as a teacher, one I would have had my eye on.”  Seems to me that Cody Wilson hasn’t changed much.  He might have lost his “not quite Goth” appearance, but I would say he still fits the “fringe” label, and seems to love the attention his morbid and lethal invention has brought him and his terrorist buddies who help him.

All in all, Wilson has shown himself to be full of philosophical babble in describing himself and his “accomplishment,” and has no qualms at all for arming any and all who wish it, but I can’t help but think he is na├»ve and foolish, and will eventually bear the shame of going down in history as one of the greatest illegal arms enablers in the world.

UPDATE (5/10/13):  The U.S. Defense Department has now forced the free online files for this gun and other gun component, from Cody Wilson, to be taken down from the DefCad website.  According to Wilson, there have been around 100,000 downloads of the plans.

From an article from

According to a note atop the Defcad website: "Defcad files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information." 
Defcad was announced at this year's SXSW. Its goal was to provide unfettered access to 3D printable firearms, as well as other designs that can be used to print anything from household tools to pharmaceuticals. 
According to a letter from the State Department obtained by Forbes, distribution of the files might be in violation of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). 
Specifically, the agency is concerned about the blueprint for the "Liberator" handgun, which had its first successful test fire this week, as well as nine other 3D-printed gun files. 
"Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat [those files] as ITAR-controlled," the letter said. "This means that all data should be removed from public access immediately."
UPDATE (8/13/13): As I had warned, others are now trying to follow Wilson's lead and optimize his 3D gun design.  Now another gun nut, this time in Canada, has made a working rifle that can fire at least 14 shots.  This isn't an issue that's going away, and presents a dangerous future.  From the article:
The gun maker, a tinkerer who would only reveal his first name, Matthew, told The Verge he felt confident enough about the weapon to fire it by hand, rather than attaching a string to the trigger as he had in earlier tests. 
"I was completely confident to hand fire, and will be taking it out again with a friend with a new barrel this week," he said in an email. 
Matthew had access to a Stratasys Dimension 1200ES industrial 3D printer at his job, where he makes parts for the construction industry. The printers cost $10,000 or more, but low-cost consumer models sell for far less and have ushered a revolution in 3D printing.
UPDATE (7/1/15):  Two felons in Oregon have been caught 3D printing the receivers for AR-15 assault rifles in their home, in order to circumvent the law.  Cody Wilson must be so proud that he is enabling felons to have lethal weapons....

UPDATE (11/25/15):  A man has now figured out how to 3D print a working revolver that fires .22 bullets.