Killer app: 3D printed handguns get go-ahead in US after Trump administration strikes court deal
‘The age of the downloadable gun formally begins’
From August 1, thanks to the Trump administration, a commercially available software blueprint will allow people to make their own guns using ABS plastic resin and a 3D printer.
The green light came late last month, with a court settlement between the designer of the blueprint and the US state department. Gun rights advocates celebrated.
In a statement greeting the news, the Second Amendment Foundation founder and executive vice-president, Alan Gottlieb, said: “Not only is this a first amendment victory for free speech, it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby.”
Defense Distributed, the company behind the blueprint, declared: “The age of the downloadable gun formally begins.”
Gun control advocates were alarmed. Nick Suplina, managing director of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, said the settlement was “incredibly dangerous” and called on the state department to continue to block the publication of what he described as “deadly information”.
“This settlement would enable convicted felons and domestic abusers to download schematics online and print their own illegal and untraceable guns,” he said.
The lawsuit arose from a software file developed by a University of Texas law student, Cody Wilson. It was a blueprint for a single-shot 3D-printed handgun, named “The Liberator”. The state department ordered Wilson to cease work, arguing that making the blueprint available would be akin to a violation of arms export statutes.
The libertarian-minded Wilson swiftly turned from a hobbyist to a crusader. “All I tried to do in law school was print a pistol and put it on the internet,” he told The Guardian in 2016. “Now I’m on a ride I can’t get off.”
Wilson sued on the grounds that his design was protected by the first amendment. He also founded a non-profit, Defense Distributed. Celebrating the settlement, he tweeted an image of flowers laid at a plaque in memory of “American gun control”.
Wilson’s legal battle was largely financed by the sale of products which allow for the DIY production of metal-framed “ghost guns”, which do not have serial numbers and are not subject to traditional gun control laws.
Defense Distributed sells users an “80 per cent lower” – a piece of metal the government deems is only 80 per cent a gun – and a milling machine that can, with a PC and the right software, bring the gun to completion.
On its website, the company describes the milling device as a way to “legally manufacture unserializsed rifles and pistols in the comfort and privacy of home”.
With the Liberator and other 3D-printed guns including AR-15 style rifles, users will not need a prefabricated “80 per cent lower”. They will be able instead to construct virtually an entire gun with any 3D printer and enough ABS plastic resin.
The gun does require a metal firing pin to operate. An additional piece of metal is included in the blueprint, to ensure compliance with the 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act.