Cody Wilson (whom I profiled in an article on our site on April 30th) released pictures of the prototype for the first completely 3-D printed gun to Forbes on Friday, May 3rd. The gun is entirely plastic except for a nail used as a firing pin. Popular Science took one apart to show all the individual pieces. Defense Distributed included a 6 oz. piece of steel in the body so the prototype would comply with the 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act. However, there would be no way to be sure everyone printing out the gun would take the same precaution.
The very next day the predictable political backlash began.
Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) proposed updated legislation for the Undetectable Firearms Act that is set to renew this year. Israel’s amendments contain a ban on plastic firearms, including plastic receivers and high-capacity magazines. Israel’s proposed ban essentially intends to restrict at-home gun manufacturing (which is legal) to metal components.
Needless to say, as Reason Magazine points out, if this legislation were enacted it would be impossible to enforce without violating our privacy and civil liberties. This knee-jerk reaction to the mere announcement of a prototype belies the question of whether warrantless electronic surveillance measures will be increasingly used to monitor who downloads Defense Distributed’s files.
Within the next few days, news spread that Wilson’s model — named the Liberator — actually could fire off shots.
Defense Distributed released the following video two days later on Sunday, May 5th. After months of meticulously testing designs and parts, Defense Distributed hails the Liberator’s initial success as the dawn of a new era in freedom:
Predictably The Huffington Post and Vice’s Motherboard flipped out. The BBC covered the story. Gizmodo reported that 100,000 people had downloaded the files for the Liberator less than a week after being released (Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg is skeptical that the files will actually “do much to upset the social order”).
By May 7th, Senator Chuck Schumer stated that the people opposed to having gun control laws cover 3-D printed weapons “do so at their peril.” The scare tactics have already began.
But the most startling knee-jerk government reaction is the State Department’s request that Defense Distributed remove the Liberator’s blueprints from DefCad.com. As the screenshot below indicates, it wasn’t only the files taken down — but the whole website.
Cody Wilson complied with the State Department’s request, but the cat is already out of the bag. Defense Distributed’s Liberator blueprints have already been released, downloaded, and will continue to circulate all over the web, whether or not the downloader actually prints them or just wants to check it out.
The files have already made it to Pirate Bay, even though the majority of people who download the file won’t be able to do anything with it. 3-D printers aren’t nearly as cheap and prevalent as the 2-D desktop printer. We may reach that point one day, but right now that’s not the case. In reality, Cody Wilson has created a niche product.
These circumstances demonstrate that, in reality, the government demanded that Cody Wilson take down information that people want to consume. While Cody Wilson’s success does signal a paradigmatic shift in the gun control dialogue, the overwhelming majority of his blueprints will not be utilized to actually make a gun on any widespread level.
Defense Distributed’s success, fueled by Cody Wilson’s determination and passion, has brought up a case where the First and Second Amendments intersect. In this instance, how does the government weigh the concept versus the execution? As it stands, the information is already freely available. The State Department can shut down DefCad, but they can’t outpace the immediacy of the internet.
The government’s pushback against Defense Distributed will signal the priorities of our leadership. Will the First Amendment be supported over the Second or vice-versa? Will both of these guaranteed rights be undermined due to fear?
#DEFCAD has gone dark at the request of the Department of Defense Trade Controls. Take it up with the Secretary of State.
— Defense Distributed (@DefDist) May 9, 2013
#DEFCAD is going dark at the request of the SOS Department of Defense Trade Controls. Some shapes are more dangerous than others.
— Cody R. Wilson (@Radomysisky) May 9, 2013