3D printed gun pioneer Cody Wilson spoke with the Washington Free Beacon this week about the fervor surrounding his plan to publish gun designs online.
After Wilson first developed the Liberator—a .380 caliber pistol made of 3D printed parts, a metal plate, and a metal firing pin—back in 2013, he publicly announced the innovation and posted the design for the gun on his website. The State Department then claimed Wilson violated International Traffic in Arms Regulations because the files could be downloaded by foreign entities and demanded he remove them from his site. Wilson complied but then sued the State Department with the help of the Second Amendment Foundation.
On July 15, 2018, Wilson announced the State Department had settled with him and would be dropping their claim against him. He then revealed plans to resurrect his gun design sharing website DefCad.com and post the files for a number of gun designs and allow their download starting Aug. 1, 2018.
"All I did on Friday was repost the Liberator on DefCad, and then I posted actually just a bunch of files from other places on the internet," he told the Free Beacon. "Literally everything on DefCad is actually somewhere else already and has been for years."
The files Wilson planned to release include the original Liberator design along with the technical designs for an AR-15, an 80-percent-finished lower receiver from an AR-15, an AR-10, a Ruger 10/22, a VZ58, a Beretta 92FS, and a 1911.
On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Court judge Robert S. Lasnik granted nine state attorneys general a temporary restraining order against the State Department that bars them from implementing their settlement with Wilson ahead of an Aug. 10 hearing. Gun-control activists cheered the decision, and some called on Congress to pass legislation banning the possession of gun designs. Wilson announced on Tuesday night that he would take down his website in response to the court's order but told the Free Beacon he was not giving up the fight and believes the law is on his side.
"The law is clear," he said. "This settlement with the government and my license [to publish the files] are not judicially reviewable."
The State Department emphasized that it is and has always been legal for law-abiding Americans to manufacture their own firearms for personal use on Tuesday. They said that their decision to settle the case with Wilson was based on advice from the Department of Justice.
"This has obviously gone through a legal process," Heather Nauert, State Department spokesperson, told reporters during Tuesday's briefing. "The Department of Justice was advising the State Department on this entire legal matter. The Department of Justice suggested that the State Department and the U.S. government settle this case, and so that is what was done. We were informed that we would've lost this case in court, or would have likely lost this case in court based on First Amendment grounds. We took the advice of the Department of Justice, and here we are right now."
The State Department told the Free Beacon that it could not comment on how it plans to handle Judge Lasnik's order as it was part of ongoing litigation.
Wilson said he was surprised by the firestorm unleashed over the settlement as well as the amount of misinformation that has come along with it.
"I'm reading government briefs that say ‘look you click a button your honor and then look you get a gun' and of course a gun is not one object," Wilson said. "It's an object of many moving pieces with pins and springs. You have to literally create all of those components even in the radically simple example of the liberator. It was supposed to be as simple a gun as you could make on a 3D printer, that's 16 pieces. You've gotta make all 16 of those pieces. Then you've gotta treat the barrel. You've gotta do all this other shit, and you don't get that instantly."
He said that the Liberator is harder to construct than many other homemade firearms produced with parts available at most hardware stores, like the designs in P.A. Luty's Expedient Homemade Firearms—copies of which are freely available for download at multiple websites.
"I would say homemade and improvised firearms are much easier," Wilson said. "I mean literally you're getting most of the way there when you walk out of Home Depot. So, one, this is a really extravagant way of making a very crude gun, but the point was for me always about this demonstration."
He said much of the uproar about the Liberator and other designs he posted being undetectable by metal detectors or other security screening devices was simply false. "In a real sense you can't [build a gun made completely of 3D printed plastic parts]," he said. "Even the liberator still has to have a metal firing pin."
The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 bans the manufacture or possession of firearms that are undetectable by walk-through metal detectors or X-ray machines commonly used at airport security. Furthermore, Wilson noted that despite a number of reports mischaracterizing the files he had planned to publish on his website, only the Liberator was actually designed to be printed. The rest are only technical drawings of the firearms.
"On DefCad, only one of those designs is printable," Wilson said. "The rest are just blueprints for the AR-15, the M-9, you know you can't even do anything with them."
He said a large motivation in creating DefCad and reposting gun designs that have been widely available on other websites in the years since the State Department first took action against him was to create a kind of Github or Wikipedia for the gun enthusiast community. He said he wanted to publish the designs so that others could work off of them and create their own innovations. The goal, in part, was to create an online community for gun innovators that allowed them to make practical improvements on the popular gun designs—some of which are more than 100 years old.
"Let's say you're a machine shop and you just want to make accessories based on lowers or grip faces or stuff, okay, here's an accurate dimensioned model so we don't have to do that reverse engineering ourselves," Wilson said. "So you save time and money with the producers. Then on the other side of the equation, it's like, well, what if I want to become a company, what if I want to become a producer, okay, here's a production, a Mil-Spec model. I can take that model, then I program in my own custom routine and make variations on the Mil-Spec pattern. That's what everybody else does out here in the AR game."
Wilson said the single-shot .380 caliber Liberator was not intended to be a durable, reliable, or particularly refined firearm but, instead, a proof of concept that demonstrates the intersection of gun rights, the internet, and the free flow of information. Wilson said he created the Liberator as a practical way "to show the elements around the concept."
"Look the computer, look the internet enabled device, the state power never had a place in between any of these," he said. "What are you gonna do, regulate the computer? What are you gonna do, regulate the printer? What are you gonna do, regulate the plans? And, of course, now the answer is, ‘Yeah, we're gonna try to regulate the plans.'"
Wilson said the multiyear fight he's waged in court was not about the right for law-abiding Americans to build their own firearms, the legality of which was not questioned in the case, but rather the right to share the knowledge of how firearms work and are made.
"If you actually try to understand the legality of what I've been doing, like what the license from the State Department actually gave me, it answered this question that I went to federal court about and I fought for five years about," he said. "I didn't just fight for five years out of pride like, ‘Hey, I want the liberator back on my site,' I wanted the recognized right to put this information into the public domain because my company is open source. What I took was the ethos of the intelligence of open source—this idea that you can like commit information into the public domain into the commons for use by everybody—and I applied it to our industry. I said, ‘If there are companies that can have this information and publish it in a recognized, open source way, it is at least some security for the future of the Second Amendment in all times in the future.' This is always how I've understood the debate, so my thinking was like, sure, yeah, demo the printed gun and stuff but that's only as a way of getting at this idea: The internet itself is where our culture has to get. We have to go there."
Wilson said gun enthusiasts had been sharing the gun designs among themselves for a long time without much thought to the philosophical or political implications of doing so. Wilson said he is simply doing the same thing but with an emphasis on those implications.
"The old machine shop guys, right, they've been sharing plans online for years, on forums, it's not even controversial to them, but I wanted to present it in this very political way," he said. "I wanna be like, ‘Look, actually, this is activism.' Put this up into the commons, and it's outside the reach of gun control when you do this, and of course the gun controllers are like, ‘Wait a minute.' So, they're in federal court like we gotta stop this here, we gotta take this website down, but should the dust settle and I somehow survive this, the law is very clear this is public speech."