At the height of the 3D printing craze several years ago, a website called Defense Distributed made waves by offering a fully 3D printed gun called the Liberator for download. You probably haven’t heard a lot about the Liberator and similar weapons in the last few years because designer Cody Wilson was at odds with the US government. After threatening the prosecute Wilson, the Justice Department under Trump has acquiesced to Wilson’s demands, PCMag reports, and will rewrite federal law to make 3D printed guns legal.
Within days of posting the Liberator files online, they had been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The single-shot pistol wasn’t anything special, but it worked and anyone could make one. Although it would fail after a few shots, so they’d have to make a lot of them.
That attracted the attention of the US State Department, which sent a letter to Wilson demanding he take his website offline. The government cited a law known as the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which restricts how guns are exported. The government contended that by posting the files online, Wilson had effectively exported them to other countries.
Fearing stiff legal consequences, Wilson took down his site. However, he’s been waging a quiet legal battle with the Justice and State Departments ever since. Earlier this year, the Trump’s Justice Department offered Wilson a settlement. Although, it looks more like complete capitulation. Wilson had been arguing that he had the right to post the files for weapons not because of his Second Amendment rights but for First Amendment reasons.
A disassembled Liberator pistol from the original 3D files that started the mess.
The government now accepts that 3D printer files that allow for the creation of guns are protected as free speech. As part of the settlement, the government will change the export laws for firearms under .50 caliber, including semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15. The regulation will move to the Commerce department, which will not attempt to regulate online technical data about the weapons.
As for Wilson, he’s forging ahead with the aim of making guns available to anyone with a sufficiently capable 3D printer. The new “Defcad” site will feature handguns like the Liberator, but Wilson also hopes to have every piece of the popular AR-15 ready for download. Law enforcement and gun control advocates are denouncing the settlement over fears that unregistered and untraceable guns could become commonplace. It’s a brave new world.
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