World / Crime & Legal

Internet publication of 3D gun plans blocked — for now

AFP-JIJI, AP, Reuters

A U.S. gun rights activist has been at least temporarily thwarted in his attempts to publish free blueprints for 3D-printed firearms across the internet.

Cody Wilson, a self-proclaimed “crypto-anarchist,” has made available for download files on making “ghost guns.” His website Defcad went live one day early on Tuesday as uproar mounted over a settlement he had made with the federal government that allowed him to publish the files. Numerous U.S. states resorted to eleventh-hour lawsuits to block the site.

Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said the implications could be even greater for other countries.

“It’s certainly a huge international problem, particularly given that many other countries have much stronger gun laws than in America,” Lowy said. “So, in those countries, there are many people who shouldn’t have guns — and could not get them unless they can get their hands on a 3D-printed gun.”

Late Tuesday, a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order to stop the release of the blueprints, responding to a lawsuit filed Monday by eight Democratic attorneys general who said the plastic weapons are a boon to international terrorists and criminals and threaten public safety.

A lawyer for Wilson’s company said he was awaiting the judge’s written order before deciding on further legal action.

The company, Defense Distributed, meanwhile agreed to temporarily block Pennsylvania residents from downloading the plans after state officials went to federal court in on Sunday seeking an emergency order. The company said it had also blocked access to users in New Jersey and Los Angeles.

Blueprints for at least one gun — a plastic pistol called the Liberator — have been posted on the site since Friday. On Tuesday, a reporter was able to download files for 10 firearms and weapons components. Defense Distributed said it didn’t know how many blueprints had been downloaded so far.

Before the restraining order was issued, Wilson told Wired magazine: “I intend to litigate. Americans have the unquestionable right to share this information.”

Wilson’s legal team has argued that any move to prevent the distribution of the blueprints would run counter to the “foundational principles of free speech.”

Wilson also says the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, should extend to a person’s right to make their own guns. In June, after a five-year legal battle between Wilson and the federal government, the Trump administration granted him permission to operate Defcad, envisioned as the WikiLeaks of firearms.

Politicians, gun-control advocates and law enforcement officials have expressed concerns that Wilson’s plans could help anyone — from a teen to a convicted felon — make untraceable weapons that have no serial numbers and could evade metal detectors.

Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia, argued that Wilson’s website would be “reckless and would create chaos and violence in the streets.”

Sens. Edward Markey, Richard Blumenthal and other Democrats on Tuesday filed legislation that would prohibit the publication of a digital file online that allows a 3D printer to manufacture a firearm. Democrats also filed a bill to require that all guns have at least one nonremovable component made of metal.

America’s main gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, said a 1988 law — crafted with NRA support — already bars the manufacture, sale or possession of an undetectable firearm. But Democrats called the law weak and said gun users can get around it by using weapons with a removable metal block that the gun doesn’t need in order to function.

While Wilson has become the public face of homemade weapons technology, the phenomenon is bigger than his website alone.

In July, Los Angeles police showcased an arsenal of ghost guns seized from gang members during a six-month undercover operation. The weapons, including AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, were fashioned from kits purchased online, according to police. Wilson’s website also features blueprints for the AR-15 and similar arms.

But some gun rights groups say the technology is expensive, the guns are unreliable and the threat is being overblown. Industry experts have expressed doubts that criminals would go to the trouble of printing weapons, since the printers can cost thousands of dollars, the guns tend to disintegrate quickly and traditional firearms are easy to come by.

In the five years since Wilson’s legal battle began, Defense Distributed has grown to 15 employees inside a nondescript warehouse in the Texas state capital of Austin.

They have created the printable plastic Liberator handgun, a machine called the Ghost Gunner with which homemade metal gun parts can be constructed, and amassed digital files for a number of weapons.

The 3D firearms technology also presents U.S. President Donald Trump with tough questions about protecting the public and the limits of gun ownership rights.

With legal challenges against Wilson multiplying, Trump weighed in on Twitter, revealing that he had spoken to the NRA about the topic. “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump wrote. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!” During his presidency, which has not been spared from mass shootings, Trump has occasionally seemed to favor tougher gun regulations, only to later buckle under pressure from his base and donors.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, condemned the administration’s June settlement with Wilson. “This decision is a death warrant for countless innocent men, women and children,” Pelosi said in a statement.