This Texan Company Plans to Arm America With 3D-Printed Guns

Because there aren't enough weapons there already.

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10 October 2012, 11:15am


Cody Wilson with a gun.

You know what this world needs? More weapons. They're the single most necessary thing that we're denied access to by the cloaked, bourgeois elite who lounge around on plush, gilded thrones and decide what we're all allowed to do. "Too dangerous", they moan, through their platinum observatory into the real world – "you don't need them!" While we drudge on in the ghettos of Ipswich, Taunton and Hartlepool, crying out for more guns so we can defend ourselves against neighbours, family and friends who also own guns.  

Texan artillery nuts, Defense Distributed, hold the answer: a plan to design a gun that can be constructed in a 3D-printer, so that anyone around the world with access to such a machine can bear arms. It's obviously a great idea – safe and well-thought-out – but, for whatever liberal, hippie-dippie reason, the killjoy parade had to come along and seize all their equipment.


A prototype 3D-printed firearm.

Still hell-bent on de-centralising government control, flipping off all those red tape bureaucrats, then printing and shooting his gun in the air, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson doesn't see that minor hiccup as much of a threat; “You can rent these printers like you can rent a car. I can go and get another printer today, or at least set up the paper work. It’s more of a scandal than a set back for us. Also, it makes us look like victims, doesn’t it?"

The motives seem clear; a masthead of Texan gun enthusiasm utilising digital advancements to share his hobby with the world by providing a free gun design over the internet, ready for anyone to download and print off. His passion for guns will instantly be shared, he'll look like a good guy for doing it for free and a solid set of Libertarian ideals will be upheld. Right? 

“More directly, we want the files to be available to people to do with as they will. It’s more about the liberation of information. We believe the gun is a political instrument and that people have the right to access that instrument, regardless of what their government might tell them. People tell you that you can’t have a gun in the UK. But I can email you one right now and you could print it out. The world simply has to change, it must begin to accommodate this.”

Yes, Cody, the world simply has to come to an understanding that allows teenagers to print out real guns capable of killing real people. Defense Distributed plan to design and build two handgun models, of which, the ambitious will use fully movable parts. As you might have expected, considering 3D-printers are still brand, sparkling new in the grand scheme of things, no one has yet come up with any laws legislating printable guns. Cody, a law student at the University of Texas, as well as a lover of firearms, believes his project is exploring new territory in law, as well as manufacturing.  

“I went to talk to the ATF (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to sort out some legal stuff. What I learned from them is that we're on our own. The law hasn't anticipated what we'd be doing. There are no answers for what we’re doing. All they could say was, 'I really can't tell you,' which is the best answer in the world and tells me all I need to know."

All Cody needed to know is that, while the people who control gun legislature desperately scramble around and try to get some kind of bill passed outlawing or restricting printable weapons, he's free to carry on working on his mission. When I put it to him that by providing everyone access to guns – in the name of liberation and freedom, of course – casualties would eventually be felt, he argued that they would just be collateral damage from achieving liberty; a worthwhile sacrifice exempt from his own responsibility. 

Does Walmart feel responsible when someone buys a kitchen knife and goes and stabs their neighbour? You can reduce this to such an absurd point. Yes, I get that the gun is an instrument of death – that’s what it is – but it’s ultimately at someone’s discretion whether they use it for that reason. I’m sorry that liberty is scary and people can do terrible things. It's a terrifying idea, but that’s no excuse to deprive everyone everywhere of their ability to harm.”

That jarred with me – the "ability to harm" supposedly the purpose of Cody's project, rather than that slightly more admissable rhetoric of "the right to defend yourself". The liberty that he's trying to introduce is only going to affect those who actively print out a weapon, not bring around grand changes to society, so is all this political posturing simply fodder to justify a gun enthusiast's basement experiment?  

“No, it is a political project. I genuinely believe the gun is a political tool, and I want as many people who desire access to a firearm to have that access. That’s not an unqualified statement. The criminally insane and the dangerous; we must always compel these people against owning these things.”

But our project is about a gun. That’s sad in one way, because it’s narrow, but it’s also exemplar – it’s telling people, 'look at all the stuff you can now have and do with the help of technology and the way that we privately organise ourselves, compared to what you had before'. It's demonstrating how people need to make their own systems independently of the systems that have been imposed on them." 

Whether or not Cody really started his project with that outcome in mind is hard to tell. Regardless, the technology is here now and, considering a sword was one of the first things to be 3D-printed, it was only inevitable that someone was going to work out how to print off a fully-functional gun at some point. The next step is to make sure that the kind of well-funded community art centres and universities that have access to these machines don't turn into mini arms factories. That would be terrifying.   

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