Designer of 3-D Printable Gun Has His 3-D Printer Seized

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 2 2012 9:36 AM

Designer of 3-D Printable Gun Has His 3-D Printer Seized

3-D printed AR-15
A partially 3-D printed AR-15 pistol.*

Defense Distributed

The promise of home 3-D printing is that you can construct anything you want from the comfort and convenience of your own living room. For a group whose mission is to 3-D print a working pistol from scratch, however, that promise has been revoked.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Defense Distributed, a collective led by UT-Austin law student Cody Wilson, has raised $20,000 online in a bid to design and develop the world’s first entirely 3-D printed gun, which it calls the Wiki Weapon. If it succeeds, not only will it build its own prototype, it will share the design publicly, so that anyone around the world with a 3-D printer can print his own pistol. It’s sort of the opposite of “Don’t try this at home.”

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In a promotional video, Wilson waxes philosophical about the project. “The Defense Distributed goal isn’t really personal armament,” he says. “It’s more the liberation of information. It’s about living in a world where you can just download the file for the thing you want to make in this life. As the printing press revolutionized literacy, 3-D printing is in its moment.”

Turns out the company that leased Defense Distributed its 3-D printer doesn’t see it that way. In a letter to Wilson dated Sept. 26, the legal counsel for Stratasys Inc. informed Wilson that it was cancelling his lease of the company’s uPrint SE printer. “It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes,” the company wrote, noting that Wilson lacked a federal license for manufacturing firearms.

Wilson has maintained that he doesn’t need a license, because he’s not planning to sell the weapon. But Stratasys was not impressed. Wired's Danger Room blog reports that the company’s representatives showed up at his door to seize the device. Now he’ll have to find another printer—and according to Danger Room, he’s considering obtaining a manufacturing license even though he doesn’t believe it’s legally required. Meanwhile, his group has posted Stratasys' letter online with the caption, "Imagine if your biggest part in the human drama was to stand in the way of an innovation."

He isn’t the first to see a 3-D printer and think of guns. A blogger and gun enthusiast known as HaveBlue made headlines earlier this year by 3-D printing the lower receiver of an AR-15 assault rifle. The digital blueprints are now available for download on the Thingiverse, an online community for 3-D printing designs.

*Correction: The caption on this story originally indicated that the image was of an AR-15 assault rifle. The version pictured is a pistol.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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