Being a novice in the 3D-printing world, I was once somewhat skeptical of what it would and could accomplish. I saw Makerbot CEO Bre Pettis on the cover of Wired in late September, and while the novelty of the process incited wonder in my inner 10-year-old, I didn't think much about it after the fact.
Enter Cody R. Wilson. Wilson is a 25-year-old University of Texas law student who is working to build semiautomatic weapons using a 3D printer. His name first came up in conversation with a colleague after he posted an Indiegogo pitch video demonstrating his intended use for a newly acquired Stratasys 3D printer, which Stratasys subsequently repossessed.
I was intrigued; Wilson seemed to be an articulate and tech-savvy mouthpiece for a movement that a large portion of the country would deem dangerous and off-limits. To find out more about his fight against gun control, I flew down to his home base of Austin, Texas, with a Motherboard film crew.
I first met Wilson at his apartment. I wasn't sure what to make of him. He checked his phone every ten seconds and had a hard time making eye contact. Every other sentence ended with "Do you know what I mean?" and he spoke on topics ranging from progress in the 3D-printed gun movement to American politics to the inherent revolutionary nature of bitcoins.
He showed us the CAD file for his lower receiver on his computer, while a five-foot American flag hung in his bedroom as a self-described ironic statement. He's a knowledgeable guy, and spoke at length about the development of Defense Distributed's lower receiver, telling me that failure was a part of the scientific process. As he said, every time one of his designs fails, it offers more insight into what designs work.
As time wore on, he became more relaxed, treating us more like peers than journalists. That line can often be very fine; it can be tough to integrate yourself into an unfamiliar social circle while still keeping a professional distance. So I found myself riding around Austin in his older BMW as he constantly checked his phone, which was somewhat unsettling.
But social niceties aside, we were there to watch Wilson build some guns.