US Government Fails To Stop The Advance Of 3D-Printed Gun

On Thursday, the US Department of State demanded that non-profit Defense Distributed (DD) removes the blueprints for its fully-functional 3D-printed handgun, the Liberator, from the recently-launched Defcad repository.

According to the Office of Defence Trade Controls Compliance, such designs are likely to be illegal since they breach international arms control regulations.

By the time the organisation complied, the files had already been downloaded more than 100,000 times and, according to the founder Cody Wilson, are now safe in the hands of Internet communities.

Kids with guns

Among its main objectives, Defense Distributed states the need “to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.”

The original Liberator

Wilson and his organisation previously made headlines for sharing 3D-printable blueprints for several gun parts online. The Liberator takes this idea further – it is the world’s first fully 3D-printed gun, which passed the initial firing tests earlier this week. It consists of just fifteen plastic parts, with a common metal nail used as a firing pin.

Add a standard .380 calibre round and you have a firearm which, theoretically, cannot be detected by airport scanners. Wilson told Forbes that the Liberator name pays homage to the cheap, one-shot pistols designed to be air-dropped over Nazi-occupied France during World War II.

On Thursday, Office of Defence Trade Controls Compliance (DTCC) wrote to Wilson, asking him to submit “Commodity Jurisdiction determination requests” for 10 items hosted on Defcad, including the Liberator.

Until these documents were provided, the DTCC ordered Wilson to remove the files from public access, since sending the blueprints outside the US could be likened to shipping weapons overseas, in violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

And its plastic counterpart

At the same time, congressman Steve Israel and senator Charles Schumer, both from New York, and senator Leland Yee from California have all called on the government to update the Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans guns that cannot be discovered by a metal detector.

Wilson said DD has ensured it is exempt from the arms-control regulations, but he has chosen to comply with DTCC’s request anyway, counting on the anonymous Internet mob to host and share the designs.

Kim Dotcom’s filesharing platform Mega, social news website Reddit and torrent resource The Pirate Bay are just some of the popular Internet destinations that were used to circulate the blueprints. The largest number of downloads were initially made from addresses in Spain, followed by the US, Brazil, Germany and the UK.

“It’s a demonstration that technology will allow access to things that governments would otherwise say that you shouldn’t have access to,” Wilson told the Daily Telegraph.

Storing or distributing the digital blueprints is not illegal in the UK. However, printing and owning firearms, even those made entirely from plastic, is a criminal offence. “To actually manufacture any type of firearm in the UK, you have to be a registered firearms dealer,” Metropolitan police told the BBC.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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