August 19th, 2018
To begin research for this article, I typed into Google’s search query the keywords “3D gun printing lawsuit.” I had gotten no farther than “3D gu” when I noticed the first search suggestions offered up by my web browser: “3D gun models.” “3D gun prints.” “3D gun download.” A bit further down the line, I saw “3D gun case”--nope, not quite what I was looking for; one click told me that case did not, in fact, refer to the lawsuit against the designer of the 3D-printable gun, but rather, to a 3D-printable container to store one’s gun, 3D-printed or otherwise.
As is obvious from the apparent frequency with which 3D-printed guns are Googled, these weapons aren’t a recent development. According to Forbes Magazine, the first functional, entirely 3D-printed gun (click here to see it in action) was created in early 2013 by a Texan libertarian anarchist named Cody Wilson.
Along with a small group of friends calling themselves Defense Distributed Cody Wilson founded the Wiki Weapon Project in August of 2012. The group aimed to raise money for the design and production of the world’s first ever gun fully downloadable from the Internet and printable from a 3D-printer.
“Every citizen has the right to bear arms. This is the way to really lower the barrier to access to arms,” Wilson told Forbes magazine at the time of his creation’s debut. “Anywhere there’s a computer and an Internet connection, there would be the promise of a gun.”
The moment Wilson successfully fired his homemade weapon, he uploaded the blueprint to his website. However, Wired reports that within the week of this online publication, Wilson’s plans were interrupted--the State Department under the Obama administration used rules from the International Trade in Arms Regulations to charge him with the unlicensed exportation of weapons, the punishment for which would be fines and jail time. Wilson took down his site, and the prints along with it, but he responded with a lawsuit against the Obama administration on the grounds that the freedom to publish his blueprints was included in his First Amendment right to free speech. This suit fueled Wilson’s political campaign for easy access to firearms.
The same article from Wired outlines Wilson’s intentions in 2016, when he expected an upcoming crackdown on gun control under Hillary Clinton’s presidency; such a movement would, as Wilson put it, “force” him to take a stand. He disclosed to the magazine that he was prepared to launch his entire repository online and face the legal consequences with an armed standoff, saying, “I’d call a militia out to defend the server, Bundy-style.…Our only option was to build an infrastructure where we had one final suicidal mission, where we dumped everything into the internet.”
Due to the well known outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Wilson never had cause to put his alarming agenda into action. With the gun-supporting, NRA-supported Trump administration in place, all legal threats to Wilson were dropped. He was free to reinstate his website, and Defense Distributed was all set to launch the blueprints on the first of August, 2018. Across the globe, anyone with Internet access, a 3D printer, and a few hours of time on their hands would be free to print a lethal firearm--no background check, no serial number. No regulation on the prospective gun owner, no record of the weapon’s existence. No control.
The dangers of 3D-printed guns aren’t hard to see. With such information readily available even from a mobile device, literally anyone could own a gun. Due to these weapons’ lack of serial numbers and the store-bought 3D printer plastic that composes them, there would be no possible way of linking them to their owners after their construction or of tracking the firearms themselves--even through airport security. If such major invisibility of lethal weapons seems like it should be illegal, that’s because it is: federal law prohibits firearms that are undetectable (and thus potentially smuggled onto an airplane).
USA Today details how Cody Wilson publishes all of his designs with a request for the user to embed a functionally irrelevant piece of metal in the body of the gun, but when DIY-ing one of these guns, no structural changes are needed to exempt that metal part. As such, Wilson is technically not accountable for the distribution of undetectable weaponry, but any fool can see the loophole exploited in his blueprints that does indeed enable the production of illegal firearms.
The prospect of civilians running amok with such weapons set lawmakers across the country on high alert. NPR reveals how, working around the clock and around the administration’s given permission, state attorneys general sued the Trump administration to inhibit the release of Wilson’s designs. Hours before the designs’ scheduled publication, CNBC broadcasted that the federal court had officially succeeded. As of Tuesday, July thirty-first, the United States had collectively, albeit temporarily, blocked the 3D guns’ blueprints from the World Wide Web.
At least, that’s what we thought. While state courts were racing to stop Wilson before the first of August, the man himself went under the radar and uploaded all of his schematics to his site on July twenty-seventh. On August third, Philly News reported that, by the time the federal court had reached a consensus to forbid public access to 3D-printable guns, Wilson’s blueprints had been downloaded over 100,000 times. It was already too late.