Total Pageviews

Friday, May 10, 2013

Printable-Gun Instructions Spread Online After State Dept. Orders Their Removal

The State Department, citing possible compliance concerns regarding the export of firearms, has ordered a Web site to remove what are believed to be the world’s first online instructions on how to build a 3-D printable handgun.

Although the blueprints had been published for only a couple of days before the removal notice was issued late Thursday, it was too late. The instructions had been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and they are now published on multiple other Web sites, blogs and an Internet file-sharing service, the Pirate Bay.

Some people have already gotten started with their do-it-yourself gun craft projects and have made videos of their efforts with 3-D printers.

“If you want it, it is out there,” said Cody Wilson, 25, the owner of the Web site, Defense Distributed, that published the gun-making blueprints. Mr. Wilson, a second-year law student at the University of Texas, said he had spent almost a year crowdsourcing the instructions.

He said his goal was not to increase the number of guns made from 3-D printers, but rather to show that, in the Internet age, neither industry nor the government can control information about new technology or how that information is used. “I don’t care about the project,” he said. “This is about the future of the freedom of information and regulation of the Internet.”

Mr. Wilson spoke to my colleague Nick Bilton last fall about his project. Mr. Bilton explained that 3-D printers were quickly becoming a consumer product.

“These printers, which now cost about $1,000, can print objects by spraying thin layers of plastic, metal or ceramics that are built up into shapes,” he wrote. “Long used by industrial companies to make prototypes and parts, 3-D printers are becoming faster and less expensive almost weekly.”

At the time he spoke to Mr. Bilton, Mr. Wilson was already running into opposition from gun-control advocates, who were concerned that he was providing instructions on how to make a plastic gun that could possibly evade airport security or help someone avoid a background check at a gun store.

After Mr. Wilson published the instructions online, Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York, renewed his call for Congress to pass his recently introduced Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, which would extend a ban on plastic firearms and include homemade, plastic high-capacity magazines and receivers. The existing ban on plastic guns expires this year and does not clearly cover these major components.

“Security checkpoints, background checks and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser,” Mr. Israel said in a statement. “When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science fiction. Now that this technology is proven, we need to act now to extend the ban on plastic firearms.”

This spring, Mr. Wilson began uploading videos to YouTube showing how the handgun, which he called “The Liberator,” could be used at a firing range. He acknowledged that, to help him cover the costs of making the gun, he had received financial backing and other guidance from several individuals who are ardent supporters of gun rights.

The only part of the gun that is not made from a 3-D printer, he said, is the bullet. The instructions suggest using a roofing nail. He demonstrates the gun in a YouTube video and includes photos of the different parts on a Tumblr blog.

.nytVideo, .nytVideo video, .youtubeVideo, .youtubeVideo iframe { background: none repeat scroll 0 0 #000000; } .youtubeVideo { position: relative; } .youtubeVideo, .youtubeVideo .thumb { height: 0; padding-bottom: 56.25%; } .youtubeVideo iframe { height: 100%; left: 0; position: absolute; top: 0; width: 100%; z-index: 1; } .youtubeVideo .playButton { border-radius: 10px 10px 10px 10px; height: 46px; left: 50%; margin: -23px 0 0 -35px; position: absolute; top: 50%; width: 70px; z-index: 2; background-image: -webkit-linear-gradient(90deg, #6e0610, #ff0000); /* Safari 5.1+, Mobile Safari, Chrome 10+ */ background-image: -moz-linear-gradient(90deg, #6e0610, #ff0000); /* Firefox 3.6+ */ background-image: -ms-linear-gradient(90deg, #6e0610, #ff0000); /* IE 10+ */ background-image: -o-linear-gradient(90deg, #6e0610, #ff0000); /* Opera 11.10+ */ } .youtubeVideo .thumb { overflow: hidden; width: 100%; } .youtubeVideo .thumb img { height: auto; width: 100%; } .youtubeVideo:hover .thumb { cursor: pointer; } .youtubeVideo:hover .playButton { } .youtubeVideo .playButton .arrow { border-bottom: 10px solid transparent; border-left: 20px solid #FFFFFF; border-top: 10px solid transparent; height: 0; left: 28px; position: absolute; top: 13px; width: 0; } .clearfix:after { clear: both; content: "."; display: block; height: 0; visibility: hidden; }

Cody Wilson demonstrates his homemade handgun, made from a 3-D printer, in a YouTube promotional video that has been viewed more than three million times.

In a statement, a spokesman for the State Department said that he could not discuss specific compliance matters but confirmed that the department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls had been in touch with Mr. Wilson’s company.

Exports of nonautomatic and semiautomatic firearms up to .50 caliber are controlled under the United States Munitions List.

Mr. Wilson said the State Department had told him in a letter to take the files down while the department conducted a review of whether his business had to be registered with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and whether he needed a license for exports of defense articles.

He said he complied, emphasizing that, for him, guns were not the point. He said he thought printing a gun was the most compelling way to make his point, but added, “3-D printing is a ridiculous way of making gun parts.”

“This is a fight about two competing visions of the future,” Mr. Wilson said. “I think my vision of distributed technology will win.”