Archive for the ‘Guns’ Category

By now, you have probably heard about the Liberator,
a 3D printed plastic gun designed, assembled, and
test-fired by Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed. Is it
legal? Last week, the State Department’s arms export office
demanded that Defense Distributed remove CAD files
for the Liberator from its website. Defense Distributed
complied with the takedown letter right away, despite
strong language on its website promising it would be
“a home for fugitive information” and “No object file will be censored unless it is malicious software.”
Predictably, it didn’t take long for the CAD files to
make their way to BitTorrent, where they’ll be
available forever. Angle 1: Arms Control It’s worth reading the letter from the State
Department, which is only two and a half pages long.
In a nutshell, the letter demands the takedown while it
decides whether publishing firearms-related CAD files
online violates ITAR. ITAR, which stands for the
International Traffic in Arms Regulations, are rules that the State Department promulgated under the
Arms Export Control Act. One part of ITAR is the
United States Munitions List, which is a master list of
products and technologies that can’t be exported
without prior government approval under a licensing
system. Because Defense Distributed didn’t seek an export license, there’s a problem. Are CAD files munitions? The State Department
believes the Liberator files fall under the Category I of
the US Munitions List, which covers firearms and
related “technical data.” Section 120.10 of ITAR says
“technical data” includes “blueprints, drawings,
photographs, plans, instructions or documentation” about “the design, development, production,
manufacture, assembly, operation, repair, testing,
maintenance or modification of defense articles” — so
that appears to cover CAD files for guns. Unsurprisingly, Defense Distributed is already saying
(melodramatically) that it will fight the takedown
demand: “It seems we may have to have our rights
declared in court to simply keep developing gun files
to put into the public domain. DD’s right to exist is
being challenged.” What will probably happen next is that Defense
Distributed will apply for an export license, which the
State Department will deny, and Defense Distributed
will sue to get a judge to issue an order that the State
Department can’t block it — and that is where things
will get interesting. Angle 2: Gun Control Laws Because the Liberator is made mostly of plastic,
Defense Distributed also has to contend with the
Undetectable Firearms Act. This law, first passed in
1988 and renewed in 2003, makes it illegal to
“manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess,
transfer, or receive” any firearm that can’t be detected by x-ray machines. Gunsmiths with a federal firearms
license (Wilson has one) can build guns to test them
for compliance, but other than that, undetectable guns
are completely contraband. Wilson packaged the CAD
files with detailed instructions, including an
admonition to DIYers to include a block of metal in a hole specifically included in the design for that
purpose. It’s up to the person doing the printing to
comply, though. If you don’t put the metal block in,
you could be in big trouble. It is probably just a matter
of days until the ATF or FBI start knocking on the
doors of people who’ve already started posting pictures of their 3D printed guns online. Notably, the Undetectable Firearms Act bans the
atoms, but not the bits: you can possess CAD files
for an undetectable firearm without violating it. That’s
an easy legislative patch, but it will run into free
speech problems. Angle 3: First Amendment Meets Second
Amendment I predict the Constitutional wrangling will focus on the
First Amendment, not the Second. (For foreign
readers, the First Amendment to the US Constitution
provides extremely strong protections for citizens’
freedom of speech, and the Second Amendment
provides a right “to keep and bear arms” — although the language is a mess and reasonable people
disagree on how to interpret it.) This is going to spawn
some strange bedfellows: I would not be surprised to
see the NRA and ACLU on the same side in this fight. Why is this a First Amendment case? One of the
issues is whether the government can prevent
citizens from publishing gun blueprints. A big gateway
question, though, is how to characterize Defense
Distributed’s CAD files in the first place. Is a CAD file
expressive speech that should be protected, or a functional thing that should be regulated? This
distinction is important because the government has
tremendous power to regulate things, but far less
power to regulate speech. When courts first started to
come to grips with software, they came out on the
side of protecting it as speech despite its functional aspects, but they might view 3D printing files
differently because when you “run” them, you get
things. President Clinton’s Executive Order No. 13026
relaxing the crypto ban (more on that below)
recognized the speech–functionality distinction: Because the export of encryption software, like the
export of other encryption products described in this
section, must be controlled because of such
software’s functional capacity, rather than because of
any possible informational value of such software… In addition to the CAD files themselves, there is also
Wilson’s act of publishing them. Is the act of
publishing a functional gun blueprint speech? Two
Supreme Court free speech cases give a partial
roadmap. The first is United States v. O’Brien, in which the Supreme Court upheld a criminal conviction for
burning a draft card. The Court found the defendant’s
conduct was expressive, but still upheld his
conviction because the law under which he was
prosecuted — a prohibition on destroying draft cards
— had justifiable military purposes that outweighed his free speech right. One could see courts today
taking a similar path by finding that the government’s
interest in controlling the flow of firearms and military
information outweighs Defense Distributed’s right to
publish gun design files. The other is the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times v. United States. There, the New York Times sought to publish damning internal Pentagon
documents about the Vietnam War. Even though the
material was directly related to national security, the
Court allowed the New York Times to go forward,
finding the newspaper’s speech interest was greater
than the government’s interest in preserving the confidentiality of classified information. The case
helps Defense Distributed to the extent it struck down
a prior restraint on speech, but publishing proof-of-
concept plastic pistol blueprints is not in the same
league as exposing government misconduct. The Crypto Cases This isn’t the first time courts have had to sort out the
mess when innovation hurtled into arms control law
and the First Amendment. The US Munitions List
used to cover a wide range of cryptography software,
a restriction only relaxed in 1996 by an Executive
Order by President Clinton — who, even then, perhaps, realized the futility of censoring the spread
of code. Before that, though, PGP creator Phil
Zimmerman was criminally investigated, but never
charged, for violating ITAR. The issue made its way
to the courts in 1997 in Bernstein v. US Department of State, where Daniel Bernstein, a UC Berkeley computer science researcher, sued to be allowed to
publish his cryptography research, which included
working code. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of California
found that it was unconstitutional for the government
to prevent Bernstein from publishing his crypto software. Judge Patel held that blocking Bernstein’s
publication amounted to a prior restraint on his
speech that violated the First Amendment. Defense Distributed will likely follow Bernstein’s path. The State Department’s takedown demand probably
qualifies as a prior restraint, to which courts are
incredibly hostile. But the ability to download a file,
press “Print,” and have gun parts come out could also
tip some judges toward calling gun CAD files
functional things and allowing the government to regulate them. Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should There’s more to this than law, however. There is also
ethics and common sense. Even if you can publish 3D-printable gun blueprints, should you? What are the consequences of doing it? Nobody in the 3D printing industry is going to thank
Wilson for bringing heat from the State Department
and Congress. Wilson’s stunt could well lead to new
restrictions and regulations on the nascent digital
manufacturing industry, even before it has had a
chance to figure things out for itself. (Scaremongers like these clowns won’t help either.) And for what?
The Liberator isn’t about to liberate anybody — it will
probably melt or explode after one or two shots.
Given the Bernstein case, even if he wins, Wilson may not even be breaking any new legal ground.


Gun control is control of all guns. This tautology, in a
developed society, is non-negotiable. If guns can
exist in our country, then gun plans can exist, and,
although I’m firmly on the side of draconian control
over most weapons, I find the move to ban Defense
Distributed’s plans for their Liberator pistol unconscionable. Guns exist, so these plans, too,
should exist. To be clear, I think Cody Wilson’s ideas are libertarian
claptrap. His jingoistic adoption of the Liberator name
– the name of the simple guns airdropped on German-
occupied territories to strike fear in the hearts of the
Nazis – insults the memories of war dead. Even a
pacifist would see the value in a last armed struggle against an enemy of unknowable power. Yet no pro-
gun pundits see the supreme disconnection between
the struggle of an unfree people and the rights of a
gunshow weapons purveyor to a frictionless
transaction. But even though we don’t need a
Liberator, now have it. And that is where I will defend these ridiculous plans
to the end. Like the Anarchist Cookbook before it, the
Liberator is the product of a fevered mind full of
conspiracy theories and unrighteous anger coupled
with a severe lack of self-awareness. The Cookbook’s
author, 19-year-old William Powell, wrote his “treatise” as a reaction to the Vietnam War. He felt strongly
enough that he would risk his life and limb – and the
lives and limbs of countless other impressionable
teens – by releasing a compendium of arguably risible
improvised weaponry. But his right to publish, to
produce, should never be in jeopardy. His aim was true but his target was wrong. The same goes for
Wilson. 3D printing is an important new industry. It makes it
as easy to play with plastic as BASIC made it easy
to play with bits. I can foresee a situation where a
child would design and print a plastic shiv or a fake
grenade or any number of potentially dangerous
items. This is how exploration works: you go to the extremes to understand the center. I remember one summer – I was probably 11 or 12 –
when my friends and I found some old glass doors in
the back yard. My friends and I spent an afternoon
cracking the glass and making “knives” – essentially
finding pieces of glass we could hold on to without
cutting ourselves. We named knives – Hawkeye, Samurai – and put them in a cloth-lined briefcase I
used on my “spy missions.” My parents found us later
in the the back yard playing with shattered glass. I
was grounded. We never got the clubhouse. The
same goes for the Liberator. The foolish mind will see
a pane of glass and sees a knife. The wise mind sees the same door and will use it as the entrance to a
greenhouse. That we didn’t see the useful application
of these doors made us idiots. We can fear 3D printing. Even if we ban every digital
file, someone out there will make something
dangerous and slap the sash of liberty on it. In the
end we live in a world of chaos tempered solely by
intelligence and compassion. It is my undying hope
that those latter facets of our nature will win out and so I understand the value of tinkering. The speed with
which Wilson ignored his own “No Takedown” rule
shows us how stern and staunch a freedom fighter
this boy really is. But I’d much rather see a vibrant –
if sometimes misguided – marketplace of ideas than
a culture of fear-mongering and bloviating. Only a fool would download and print Wilson’s gun. But, if guns
can remain in our lockboxes and closets, it is the
fool’s right to do so, no matter what.

3D printed guns are reportedly even too scary for the
infamous free-information hacker, Kim Dotcom. After
the U.S. State Department demanded that the
designer of the world’s first fully printable gun remove
the files from his network, New Zealand-based
Dotcom committed to keeping them safely online in his offshore legal safehaven. According to New Zealand’s Newstalk ZB website,
“The plans were available on Dotcom’s Mega website,
but the New Zealand-based entrepreneur asked his
staff to delete the public files. Dotcom says he thinks
they are a serious threat to security of the
community.” We have reached out to Dotcom and will update
readers with more information as we receive it. Last week, Texas law school graduate Cody Wilson
made global headlines for freely distributing digital
blueprints for manufacturing a lethal weapon with a 3D
printer. In a mere week, Senator Chuck Schumer
called for immediate regulation and the blueprints
themselves had been downloaded over 100,000 times. Because of Dotcom’s commitment to guarding them
against U.S. interference, it was questionable whether
any government entity could prevent them from being
distributed. Dotcom is an entrepreneur and hacker,
who became famous for a massive police raid of his
Megaupload site that housed pirated entertainment content. He seemed like a natural ally in the fight for
radical open information. Now that even he’s abandoned 3D weapons, perhaps
there is some information that the Internet and
government can collaboratively reject.

Well that was quick: The State Department has
demanded that new blueprints for a fully 3-D-printed
gun be taken offline just a week after they were
posted. The Office of Defense Trade Controls
Compliance is forcing outspoken Second Amendment
crusader Cody Wilson to remove the downloadable 3- D printer files from under expert laws
known as the International Traffic in Arms
Regulations (ITAR). “Until the Department provides Defense Distributed
with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations,
Defense Distributed should treat the above technical
data as ITAR-controlled,” reads a State Department
order” (embedded at the bottom of this post). The defiant gun developer isn’t going to fight the
government in a blaze of glory, however. “We have to
comply,” he told Forbes. It’s not exactly an empty
surrender. The blueprints have already been
downloaded 100,000 times and are being held by
fellow digital renegade Kim Dotcom in his offshore New Zealand servers. For further insurance, the files
have also been uploaded to the popular file-sharing
network, the Pirate Bay (we can feel our anarchist
readers getting goosebumps right now). Just to make sure he’s an equal-opportunity offender,
Wilson argues his activities are legit, because ITAR
doesn’t apply to information sold in a library, and
conveniently has his being sold in an undisclosed
Austin, Texas, bookstore. According to Forbes’ Andy Greenberg, Wilson sees
parallels between his strife and the governments
abandoned attempts at censoring military-grade
encryption software. In the 1990s inventor Phil
Zimmermann released software, PGP, so difficult to
crack that it could have permitted malicious actors from hiding information from law enforcement. Wilson
believes public pressure ultimately convinced the
government to back off of Zimmermann. It’ll be interesting to see whether the government has
any actual power to prevent the propagation of 3-D
gun blueprints. State Dept Defense Distributed Letter (Redacted)

20130507-084329.jpg. Now that we have confirmation that the Liberator 3D-
printed pistol can be fired without destroying the body,
let’s address what this means for 3D printed weapons
and, presumably, homemade weapons in general. Does the pistol work? Yes, it can be fired at least once without damage to the body of the gun or the
person at the trigger. Andy Greenberg at Forbes has
seen the gun fire multiple times and the video above
shows one shot. Is it a real pistol? No. This is more of a zip gun than a pistol. Zip guns were improvised firearms made of
tubes, rubber bands, and nails. Kids fool-hardy
enough to shoot one (this cohort included my own
father who showed me how to make them) were
promised a second of hair-raising and potentially
deadly excitement when they made zip guns out of pipe and rubber. To fire one, you fitted the cartridge
into the pipe and pulled back on the nail attached to
the rubber band. If it hit the charger properly the bullet
would fire. A similar thing is happening here: a spring-
loaded nail is hitting a cartridge. The barrel of the gun is threaded but I wouldn’t expect
this weapon to be very accurate. Think of this gun as
a controlled explosion generator. It uses a very
small .380 caliber bullet which is deadly, to be sure,
but quite small. Could I print one? Yes. You can easily download the 3D-printable files from (here is a
private mirror) and if you have a 3D printer you can
easily print any of these parts. The creators built this gun using the Stratasys
Dimension SST 3D printer, a high-resolution printer
that works similarly to the Makerbot but offers a far
finer and more durable print. This printer has a layer
thickness of .25mm, however, which the Makerbot
can easily match. Would I print and fire this using on my Replicator? No.
I’m far too risk averse. I asked multiple 3D home
printer manufactures and none would comment
specifically on firearms, so there is no implicit or
explicit promise of safety. Will someone try to print it on home equipment? Yes. Is this legal? Yes, but I’m no lawyer. It is a legal, homemade firearm and those have been made in
basement workshops for most of this century. In
most cases, a Federal Firearms License is mandatory
to begin making or manufacturing weapons. For
example, anyone building this gun would be a
“Manufacturer of Destructive Devices, Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition.”
Anyone can apply for this license, thereby making the
manufacture of this thing legal. For decades,
however, the need to license was a minor barrier to
entry into what would be a non-trivial process. The
tools and materials necessary to build a real gun in your basement were expensive and it made economic
sense to legally safeguard your home workshop. The
manufacture of a 3D-printed weapon, however, is
trivial, and can be built by anyone with an investment
of $8,000 or so for a Stratasys printer or, for the less
risk-averse, a home 3D printer that costs about $2,000. It is also designed to comply with the Undetectable
Firearms Act of 1988 because it contains a small
block of steel. From the print instructions: How to legally assemble the DD Liberator:
-Print (ONLY) the frame sideways (the shortest
dimension is the Z axis). USC18 922(p)(2)(A)*: “For
the purposes of this subsection (The Undetectable
Firearms Act of 1988) – the term ‘firearm’ does not
include the frame or receiver of any such weapon;” Thus, you can legally print ONLY the frame entirely in
plastic, even without 3.7 ounces of steel.-Once the
frame is finished, epoxy a 1.19×1.19×0.99″ block of
steel in the 1.2×1.2×1.0″ hole in front of the trigger
guard. Add the bottom cover over the metal if you
don’t want it to show.-Once the epoxy has tried, the steel is no longer removable, and is an integral part of
the frame. Now your gun has ~6 ounces of steel and
is thus considered a ‘detectable’ firearm. So now you
can print all the other parts.
It is, in short, legal to make a gun and this is a gun. Can this be stopped? No. What’s next? The cynic would say we will soon see the first murder with a 3D-printed gun. The cynic will
also say that this will cast 3D printing in an entirely
new, more sinister light and could affect the home
printing industry dramatically. The cynic would also
expect a great deal of messy legislature to come out
of this that will, depending on which side of the gun debate you fall on, “get these off the streets” or
“infringe on our rights.” A cynic would also say that the entire Defense
Distributed agenda is an example of trolling that will
eventually do more harm than good. The cynic would
also say that a harsh government crackdown would
also be equally silly. A nuanced approach is absolutely necessary. The non-cynical would find this to be more a proof of
concept than a real manufactured weapon and say
that it was bound to happen eventually. 3D printing
has made manufacturing trivial. This is a logical
evolution of an entrenched industry and a centuries-
old product. Gunsmithing is not a new hobby. However, it just got much easier.