Would-be plastic gunsmiths fight for the right to create printable pistols.
The engineers out there may know what Minnesota-based Stratasys makes: 3D printer technology, used to create functional parts and prototypes that work just like the final product. ‘Just like, you say?’ thought the folks at Defense Distributed. ‘Why not print out a working gun, then?’ It was this entrepreneurial spirit that inspired Stratasys to pull its printer out of Defense Distributed’s clutches just as quickly as it could.
Defense Distributed claims that its campaign wasn’t intended to sell guns to anyone. The idea was to create CAD blueprints, which would be freely distributed so anyone could print their own plastic pistols. “WikiWep is about challenging gun control and regulation,” says its FAQ. “We look to inspire and defend those who live (and are threatened to live) under politically oppressive regimes. Firearm Rights are Human Rights.”
Stratasys wasn’t keen to get into a legal debate with Defense Distributed. “It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes,” its legal representatives said in a letter to Defense Distributed. “Therefore, please be advised that your lease of the Stratasys uPrint is cancelled at this time and Stratasys is making arrangements to pick up the printer.” The WikiWep developers response was to comment, “Imagine if your biggest part in the human drama was to stand in the way of an innovation,” but presumably a website snark isn’t going to stop Stratasys from taking its printer back.
As 3D printer technology is so new, the law really hasn’t caught up with the implications of its use. In America there are various forms you have to send to the ATF before you can make some kinds of firearm, and of course different states have different gun control regulations. “It’s what this old world of legal hierarchy requires,” said Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed. “I have to go through a legal process just to try something.”
Well, that and get funding. This isn’t the first time Defense Distributed has frightened the bejeezus out of people; when it tried to crowdfund its project through Indiegogo, the folks at Indiegogo booted Defense Distributed from its site. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on your point of view – in September Defense Distributed was able to raise the funding it needed from other internet donors. “I think it shows they really believe in a future where the gun is inalienable,” said Wilson at the time, “a kind of faith in American individualism, the sovereignty of the individual.”