DALLAS, May 9, 2013 - The revolutionary concept of 3-D printed firearms has been building momentum for months now. Online observers, innovators, investors and the generally curious celebrated as the first completely 3-D printed handgun became a reality. Since the blueprint for “The Liberator” hit the web, the file was downloaded more than 100,000 times in a few days. Today, the government shut it down. Cody Wilson, the 3-D gunsmith, libertarian law student, and founder of the non-profit innovation outlet, Defense Distributed, broke the bad news in a tweet to his followers.
According to an earlier interview, Wilson received a letter from the US Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, Enforcement Division (DTCC/END) which demanded the group remove the content in question from public domain.
The complaint reads that the “DTCC/END” will review the data Defense Distributed has released to ensure compliance with “Category I of the USML” (United States Munitions List). Apparently, releasing the files possibly violated the ITAR, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
Though Wilson is not legally restricted from privately manufacturing firearms, apparently sharing emerging technology without a license or written approval from the government is unlawful. “Commodity Jurisdiction” determination requests were solicited for ten of Defense Distributed’s file types, including “The Liberator.”
The website files are down and the site’s banner states, “DefDist Liberator Pistol: This file has been removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.”
“The Liberator,” is a 16-piece plastic firearm crafted by 3-D printers. A metal firing pin and embedded shank bring the weapon in compliance with the 30-year old Undetectable Firearms Act. Most downloaders do not have the software or equipment to produce a working gun with the files, but curious minds inquire. The download rate is likely to further explode, and is available all over the Internet. Facebook pages are intent on sharing this technology until Defense Distributed returns.
But this move by federal authorities did not come as a surprise for firearm advocates.
Prior to Wilson’s receiving this letter, persistent gun control proponents Rep. Steve Israel, (D-NY) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supported the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act which would attempt to ban all plastic 3-D printed guns and high-capacity magazines.
According to Israel’s website, “The Undetectable Firearms Act that Rep. Israel is introducing makes it illegal to manufacture, own, transport, buy, or sell any firearm that is not detectable by metal detector and/or does not present an accurate image when put through an x-ray machine. The reauthorization would extend the life of the bill for another 10 years from the date of enactment.”
“[These firearms] have no metal and could therefore slip through a metal detector,” Chuck Schumer stated. “We’re facing a situation where anyone — a felon, a terrorist — can open a gun factory in their garage, and the weapons they make will be undetectable.” There was no mention of the fact that without ammunition a gun is nothing more than a paperweight.
In response to calls for bans, the Internet scoffed at legislative attempts to control inevitable technology. Cory Doctorow highlighted the futility of attempting to stifle online information or enforce bans on technology.
“[Will they implement] Firmware locks for 3D printers? A DMCA-like takedown regime for 3D shapefiles that can be used to generate plastic firearms (or parts of plastic firearms?). A mandate on 3D printer manufacturers to somehow magically make it impossible for their products to print out gun-parts?”
Every one of those measures is nonsense, and worse: an unworkable combination of authoritarianism, censorship, and wishful thinking. Importantly, none of these would prevent people from manufacturing plastic guns, and all of these measures would grossly interfere with the lawful operation of 3D printers.”
Technical drawings for building guns have been in the public domain for centuries, and that information is protected as free speech. Bureaucrats with proven, fundamentalignorance of the Internet establishing restrictive bans and rules regarding online information distribution sets a dangerous precedent.
According to Forbes, Wilson intends to explore legal exemptions for non-profit public domain releases of technical files. He asserts that the Internet, as the most robust information-sharing network in human history, counts as a library under ITAR’s statutes.
Wilson feels that government harassment is a sign he is doing something good for society by challenging outdated regulatory practices. “The blueprints have already moved beyond the DefCad.com database, seeded several times on the file-sharing site Pirate Bay. It’s in the fabric of the Internet.”
According to Wilson, the organization’s ideal goal is to test constitutional rights. “This is the conversation I want,” he says. “Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of the Internet and 3D printing? I think this isn’t a project about firearms, it’s a project about political equality.”
Wilson predicted that they would come after his creation, but that they could not stop its proliferation. Now, only time will tell if he is correct.
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