UT Austin Law Student Tries To Print A Pistol, Gets the Printer Seized Instead

Categories: Technology


Cody R. Wilson, a second-year law student at UT Austin, has a hobby that's gotten a fair amount of media attention over the last few months: He wants to print out some guns. But his plan to make and test a pistol using a 3-D printer ran into an unexpected snag last week, when the company leasing him the printer came and seized it from his home, Wired reports.

Wilson heads a group called Defense Distributed, whose dream is to make what they've termed "the Wiki Weapon": a printable gun whose blueprint could be downloaded online and built at home using a 3-D printer.

"Printable guns aren't my interest," the 24-year-old Wilson, who describes himself as a "civil libertarian," told us. "I like the philosophical components, the democratization of manufacturing itself ... Basically it's disruptive technology. I like that. And I went a step further with it. It comes from a political perspective."

"WikiWep is about challenging gun control and regulation," Defense Distributed writes on their website, explaining why they want to make printable guns, when the regular kinds are readily available. "Economic or reliability advantages vs. traditional guns or gun production aren't even at issue. We look to inspire and defend those who live (and are threatened to live) under politically oppressive regimes. Firearm Rights are Human Rights."

But Stratasys, the desktop-manufacturing company that leased the printer to Wilson and his friends, apparently had some second thoughts about the whole thing. Last week, they emailed Wilson asking politely for their printer back. Wilson declined, stating that he wasn't breaking any federal gun manufacturing laws. He was merely making a prototype, which wouldn't be for sale.

As best Wilson can tell, it would also probably explode after firing one round.

"The materials are weak and brittle materials," he says, calling them "impractical." "We're experimenting with other rounds. But that's the thing, right? We just want the freedom and the latitude to do some R&D on these materials." He readily acknowledges that there are "things to be worried about" with the at-home manufacture of the guns. "It's not like an obviously great thing. I'll be the first to admit it. There's a lot of stuff to talk about, a lot of stuff to engage with."

Stratasys was not appeased by his assurances that he was simply experimenting with a prototype. "It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes," they wrote to him, according to Wired. "Therefore, please be advised that your lease of the Stratasys uPrint SE is cancelled at this time and Stratasys is making arrangements to pick up the printer." The next day, some guys in an Enterprise van came and took the printer away. He hadn't even taken it out of the box yet.

Undaunted, Wilson visited the Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms field office in Austin yesterday to ask some questions about legal issues surrounding his project. The ATF agents were happy to see him, as they told him, since they'd been planning on paying him a home visit anyway.

"It ended up being OK, knock on wood," Wilson says. ATF advised him that in order to proceed legally, he'd really need to get a firearm manufacturers license. "That was their advice, and I don't think they can advise me like that. But there is no way out of the woods here. The technology is getting ahead of the law."

Wilson could get licensed as an individual to manufacture firearms. But Defense Distributed has decided to become registered as an LLC instead, he says, although they'd really rather not.

"I hate to undermine our set of values," he says. "There was something special about being -- we don't want to be some official legal entity. It kind of defeated the purpose to become one." But he also has no interest in going to jail.

After becoming an LLC, Defense Distributed still has to find another 3-D printer in order to proceed.

"That'll be easy," Wilson says breezily. "Right now, people are offering me printers. It won't be hard. But we have to get our legal ducks in a row."


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21 comments
larrypage00001
larrypage00001

why would he do that? What would he gain from printing a pistol using a printer? I dont get it. And is there a printer today that can even do what he wants to do? A 3d printer? then what kind of ink can we use on that printer, I think we can use a brother drum unit on it.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

the guy could make more money making 3-d replicas of a woman....the Japs make a lot of money that way.

ObserverHatesFacts
ObserverHatesFacts

Reminds me of the hysterics you saw(and still see) over Glock pistols... pEOPLE WILL WAk right THROUGH medal ditektos!!!!

The Judge
The Judge

Ironically, this guy will be shot by one of he printed guns one day...

deborahengland
deborahengland

the guy is a total idot it doesn't take a genius to know it wont fire ammo but to the shop owner being held up or the bank clerk its pulled on or the police officer who tells him to drop his weapon how can they tell its not the real deal .

i can just picture it the police officer says drop your weapon he replys its not a real gun just something i printed eirlyer officer honest.

what an idot

chad
chad

I think everyone involved knows it's not even remotely practical and would never be capable of safely firing a live round but it's an interesting legal thought experiment. I'm surprised the printer manufacturer took it away since it wasn't being used for "illegal purposes", my guess is they just don't want the press but the Streisand Effect has taken ahold.

StayPuffyKarlRove
StayPuffyKarlRove

Leave it to a fucking Texan to try to create a 'printable gun.'

 

Evidently even intellectually gifted and scientifically inclined Texans have an idiot NRA logo emblazoned on their forehead. Why stop at a printable gun? Why not a printable Kevorkian kit?

Or a printable WMD? The Axis Of Evil could have used one of those when their lies about Iraqi WMDs were uncovered.

 

Jeez...

petevonwolfhausen
petevonwolfhausen

I dont understand how a barrel made completely of plastic is going to withstand the pressure of a normal round of ammo, maybe it might work for light loaded .22 or .17hmr rounds? I don't really understand how it can work, not to mention there's that stupid law that says a certain percentage of the firearm must be made of metal.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

The thing is, WIlson is right and Stratasys is wrong. As long as Wilson does not transfer the weapon (sell or give it to another person), it is perfectly legal for him to make a pistol, rifle or shotgun. People make their own rifle and pistol, receivers from metal all of the time.

And, he is not the first person to make a firearm with a 3D printer. The difference is that he is trying to make all of the parts with the printer. Others have made receivers (the part that must be serial numbered and registered with the ATF if you want to transfer it to another person) and then added metal parts.

JM64
JM64

 @deborahengland If a person wants something that LOOKS realistic, it is available right now. In some cases the brightly colored cap on the muzzle that is required by the federal government to denote a "toy" is easily removed or covered with black paint or tape. This attempt to make a 'printable' gun may be an interesting application of technology, but could not be used (at this time) to make a real firearm.

 

Your fear of someone being victimized by a 'printed' replica gun is vastly overblown.

JM64
JM64

 @chad Serious question, what is the 'Streisand Effect'? I agree with your comment, but had not heard of this before.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @petevonwolfhausen Like Wilson stated, this is just the R & D stage of his project. Likewise, 3D printers are also evolving technologically speaking, and will certainly be able to print metal parts in the near future - if they are not already able to do so. Sintered metals have been around for decades. It's just a matter of refining the process.

TitusGroan
TitusGroan

Stratasys is wrong, but also right.  The liability risk of allowing Wilson to continue this experiment is huge.  If I'm Stratasys, I pull the printer too.  I would rather have Wilson sue me for not honoring the lease than some injured party suing me for pain and suffering.

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