Cody Wilson, the fast-talking techno-libertarian famous for unapologetically championing the 3D-printed gun movement, just announced what's perhaps his boldest move yet. His company, Defense Distributed, is taking pre-orders for a tiny mill that can machine metal guns automatically. It's called Ghost Gunner, and it'll ship in time for the holidays.
Ghost Gunner, named for the colloquial term for unserialized firearms, "ghost guns," is a desktop-sized, computer-guided mill much like the kind you'd find in any high school shop classroom. The 13x11 inch box is designed to fit an 80 percent lower receiver, a firearm component that can be bought legally but needs some specialized milling to fire a bullet. This is where Ghost Gunner comes in.
CAD files can be loaded into Ghost Gunner, and after a little automatic machining and manual screw turning (screws come in the box), Defense Distributed claims that you'll have your very own functional and untraceable gun. They plan on releasing open source design files for AR-15 and AR-10 assault rifles, as well as the M1911 pistol, before its release.
When I called Wilson to get some more details on the project, he sounded distressed.
"It's hardcore right now, dude," he said. "More hardcore than it should be."
Wilson was in the middle of an email exchange with a Department of Defense official, who was presumably displeased with his latest venture. "Dude, and this is to say it eloquently, they're just really butt hurt. It's just like, what is going on? I think this dude is a partisan," Wilson said in his signature rapid-fire cadence. "Look, man, I'm kind of an asshole, and I'm talking to my lawyer to see if we can get this guy fired. Because it's a crime, man, to intimidate someone and act like you have public authority."
By providing the means to manufacture guns, Wilson is entering murky legal waters not unlike those he's been swimming in for years as a printed gun advocate. Building your own gun at home isn't technically illegal, but if you plan on selling your homemade gun or lending your Ghost Gunner to someone else, you could be in trouble.
Automatic weapons require approval by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) before they can be privately manufactured. If you can't provide documentation proving that you're making one for a government agency, your request will be denied, according to ATF documents.
Tense encounters with public officials are perhaps to be expected under these circumstances. Even so, Wilson believes he's legally covered.
"A lot of this presentation is just song and dance. There was a big Kickstarter for a CNC mill last month called the Nomad. They raised like 3 million dollars [Note: They actually raised $513,665]. That machine can do what mine can, and there's interoperability. These are general use machines," he said. "The controversial software would be related to the gun patterns and gun workflows, but that's not what we've released today, and that's not what you're buying. What you're buying is just a mill."
These are general use machines. What you're buying is just a mill.
According to Defense Distributed, Ghost Gunner may be programmed to machine things that aren't guns, thanks to its open source design. The only catch is that any piece of aluminum that you stick in there has to be the size of a lower receiver. It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will buy that justification, but Wilson maintains that there is a precedent for this kind of technology among gun enthusiasts.
"We've acclimated to the gun community, what its demands and problems are. That community knows what it wants, and we're entering a fairly well-understood area with the gun community," he told me. "Now, this is totally 'what the hell' from someone who's uninitiated, but the gun people know exactly where a machine like this fits."
According to Wilson, like his previous endeavours with 3D printing, Ghost Gunner is an attempt at "something political," although it's not really clear what, exactly, that is. It smacks of vague anarchism, libertarianism, and Tea Party-esque, right-wing gun loving all at once. Whatever his motivations, the effect will be the same: Ghost Gunner could provide the means for a small subculture of homebrew gun manufacturers to build assault weapons quickly, cheaply, and easily.
When I asked Wilson if he was worried, since Ghost Gunner seems like an especially bold move, he played it cool.
"No, but maybe that's being naive. I've been in this game for a while, man," he said. Still, Ghost Gunner's future is uncertain, and that's got to weigh on anyone's mind. "The aggregate knowledge of everything we've done in the last two years has gone into this. I feel better about this than anything else. But the thing is, if you make them mad enough, they can do whatever they want, anyway."