Cody Wilson claims the federal government violated his rights under the First, Second and Fifth amendments when it prosecuted him for publishing plans for 3D printed guns. (Courtesy: Cody Wilson)
Cody Wilson had a vision to forward the digital revolution by creating the nation’s first firearm on a 3-D printer, and, taking a page from WikiLeaks, share the blueprints with the world via the Internet in what he called the “Wiki Weapons project.” Now he is suing the federal government in hopes of keeping his dream on target – and staying out of prison.
Wilson was so taken with the idea, he dropped out of law school and designed “The Liberator,” the nation’s first pistol built exclusively on a 3-D printer, consisting of 12 separate parts made from plastic and a single metal firing pin.
“The technology will break gun control. I stand for freedom.”
- Cody Wilson
Within two days of publishing the blueprints on the Internet, on May 5, 2013, 100,000 people around the world had downloaded them. The goal, Wilson said, was to invalidate the government’s “unconstitutional” hold on gun technology.
“The technology will break gun control,” said Wilson, who formed the non-profit organization, Defense Distributed, with his partner, Ben Denio, in Little Rock, Ark., in the summer of 2012. “I stand for freedom.”
But Wilson’s invention also caught the attention of the State Department, which came after him with both barrels blazing. The feds claimed Wilson violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which “requires advance government authorization to export technical data,” and as a result, could spend up to 20 years in prison and be fined as much as $1 million per violation.
Wilson was ordered to remove the blueprints for The Liberator from his web site. The government also told him they were claiming ownership of his intellectual property.
“Defense Distributed is being penalized for trying to educate the public about 3-D guns,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation, whose organization is backing Defense Distributed in a court action.
Gottlieb said his Second Amendment group, made up of 650,000 members nationwide, wants to publish theinformation about three-dimensional printing of firearms on its web site as educational material for its members, supporters and general public.
On Wednesday, the Second Amendment Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on in Texas, where Defense Distributed is now based, alleging the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry and four other State Department officials and the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, are among the defendants who violated Wilson’s First Amendment rights by restraining him from publishing information about three-dimensional printing of arms, as well as his Second and Fifth Amendment Rights.
Josh Blackman, an attorney in Texas who is one of the attorneys representing Wilson, said 3-D printers may lead to a “renaissance of innovation” and noted “the government should tread carefully in restricting this technology to protect intellectual property.”
“Let technology and our constitutional rights be free,” Blackman said.
The Liberator unleashed a panic about the threat of 3-D guns, Blackman said, pointing as an example to statements made by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has proposed legislation that would ban 3-D guns.
“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. It’s stomach-churning,” Schumer said at a news conference in May 2013.
However, the threat of the 3-D guns, and the need for regulating them, has been greatly overstated, Blackman said.
“Contrary to Schumer’s suggestion, a working gun does not pop out of the 3-D printer ready to fire, like a pop-tart from the toaster,” Blackman said. “Using a 3-D printer to create the parts, and assemble them, is a time-intensive process that requires advanced knowledge of machining and gunsmithing.”
Defense Distributed, which had released its blueprints at no charge until being ordered by the State Department to remove them, began in 2013 to sell a $1,500 milling machine called the “Ghost Gunner.”
With Defense Distributed software, the milling machine allows the user to build the plastic lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle, one of America’s most popular sporting rifles, and because it is self built, allows the owner to avoid registering the firearms with a government database.
“Specifically within the AR15 community, gun owners can now make the capacity magazines for themselves and there is no need to serialize them,” Wilson said. “People don’t like to register their firearms any more. They don’t trust the government.”
Wilson submitted various published files related to the “Ghost Gunner” to the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, and while the federal agency said the machine does not fall under International Traffic in Arms Regulations, the software and files are subject to State Department jurisdiction.
“Defense Distributed appears caught in what appears to be a bureaucratic game of merry-go-round,” Gottlieb said. “The right to keep and bear arms includes the ability to acquire or create arms. The government is engaging in behavior that denies this company’s due process under the Fifth Amendment. We’re compelled to file this action because the bureaucracy is evidently playing games and it’s time for these agencies to behave.”
The possibilities of 3-D technology are mind blowing for Americans who in many states live under strict firearms regulations that require them to register firearms they purchase or sell. As long as the 3-D firearm or magazine is not being sold, traded or shared, there is no license required.
“3-D printers mean an end to any gun control,” said John Lott, an economist, leading expert on guns, author of eight books and columnist forFoxNews.com. “The government is not going to be able to ban magazines for guns, or ban guns themselves, and the notions of background checks would be even more impossible to do. Anyone with access to a 3-D printer can make guns functionally and indistinguishable from a gun that can be bought in a store. I don’t know how the government will stop people from obtaining a printer.”
While he understands why the government wants to regulate 3-D firearms, Lott called it a “pretty futile effort.”
“Just look at the illegal download of television shows and movies,” Lott said. “Millions of copies have been downloaded and the government has been unable to stop it. Why would the government be successful in stopping other information like these files from being downloaded?”
A metal printer that can build a firearm costs about $10,000 and the price continues to drop. Meanwhile some government agencies have proposed forcing those who purchase printers to register them as they would firearms.
“The government does not know how to even begin to deal with these problems,” Lott said. “I understand what government wants to regulate this, but it is too late. Technology moves faster than government.”
The State Department does not comment on ongoing litigation, according to a spokeswoman, who referred Fox News to the U.S. Department of Justice. No one there could immediately be reached for comment.