Cody Wilson, maverick firearms geek behind the printable gun craze is back in hot water again. This time its for the design of his new single shot (single use) Liberator pistol. The thing is, he didn't even sell it, he gave it away. This brought the ire not of the ATF, FBI, or some other law enforcement organization-- but instead, the State Department.
As crazy as it sounds, this is for real.
What is the Liberator Anyway?
(photo by Defense Distributed)
Defense Distributed, commonly referred to as DefCad has in the past year or so exploded into the gun world. Headed by Texas law student Cody Wilson, the firm uses 3D "replicator" printers that can take a set of plans and create (using plastic extruders) anything you want (as long as its plastic). The company has already created polymer lowers for AR-15 series rifles that have functioned checked and fired live rounds.
(Within days printed out versions of the Liberator began popping up in blogs, newspaper articles, and on forums. This one apparently was produced in New Hampshire)
Moving to the logical next step, Defcad introduced a single shot .380ACP caliber handgun that could be printed out and assembled. The 15 primary parts of the gun are all plastic, including the frame, springs, trigger, and barrel. The only piece (the 16th) that is not printed out of plastic is a simple finishing nail that is used as the firing pin that comes out of the breechface. Wilson, a 25-year old U Texas post grad student, offered the full 3D CAD plans for free download from his website and in two days more than 100,000 sets were downloaded.
Who Pulled It?
Within 48 hours of the file going live, it was yanked down without ceremony. Now you would think that this was done by the orders of the Department of Homeland Security, or the BATFE, or the Department of Justice, or even the Commerce Department-- but all of those are incorrect. The cease and desist letter that DefCad received came from the US State Department, the branch of government that handles foreign relations. According to the Guardian "The department said the blueprints had to be taken offline because they may contain data regulated by the State Department"
You see, some of the primary downloaders (it is the World Wide Web after all) were overseas, with Spain, Brazil, Germany, and the UK all hitting the top five marks (along with the US) with thousands of downloads each. As each of these countries has very strict gun laws, particularly for handguns, this could have been seen as giving our allies heartburn.
Indeed, within a few days of the Liberator plans going live, reporters from the Daily Mail in the UK assembled one of these 3D printed guns (sans firing pin or ammo) and smuggled it aboard a Eurostar passenger train past security checkpoints-- even taking to gun to Paris!
(Daily Mail reporter with a inactive Liberator on the Eurostar train from London to Paris, photo from the Daily Mail)
Why prohibit something as innocent as a download?
Some gun blogs have advanced the notion that the Liberator was pulled due to interference by China or some other third world super police state. The logic behind this argument is that the 3D printed gun could be mass-produced and used by nascent insurgent groups to overthrow the government--private gun ownership in China being strict for the past sixty years or so. It's a thought....
After all the original Liberator was designed as a throwaway 'gun to get a gun' that could be dropped to resistance fighters behind enemy lines during World War Two.
We'll keep you informed on the story as it develops.