Access to guns is (and should be) a hot button issue in the U.S., but 3D printing could make it possible for just about anyone to get their hands on a working weapon. At least that was the dream of Cody Wilson from Defense Distributed, until the company that made his leased 3D printer had other thoughts about how the machine should be used.
Defense Distributed is a loose online collective that is developing a single-shot gun they call the Wiki Weapon, which can be printed out by anyone with access to a 3D printer. The idea was to release the open source CAD file freely online, so that anyone could adapt and improve the basic design to fit their needs.
Unlike that other guy who developed a way to print some parts for an AR15, the Wiki Weapon is designed to be manufactured entirely on a 3D printer. The catch is that with a plastic composite chamber and barrel, they expect that the Wiki Weapon will be unusable after the first shot, making it a true one time use device.
To test his ideas in the real world, Wilson leased a Stratasys uPrint SE 3D printer using $20,000 raised on Bitcoin. The problem is, once Stratasys caught wind of what Defense Distributed was trying to do, the company decided that it wanted its printer back. Citing a policy that doesn't allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes, Stratasys sent a crew over to Wilson's house and picked up the still-packed uPrint SE.
Wilson, who is a University of Texas law student, says that federal law permits home manufacturing of some types of weapons, as long as they are not for sale or trade. After Stratasys seized the printer, he went to the local ATF office for clarification, which offered the opinion that this falls into a legal gray area that requires a gun manufacturer's license.
Another problem is the 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act, which could make a gun manufactured entirely from plastic illegal under any circumstances due to the difficulty of catching them with an airport X-ray machine.
Wilson says that he expected to face hurdles like this, and his plan is to act as a test case that clarifies the rules for the rest of us. He says that he will press ahead with a manufacturer's license, and possibly incorporate Defense Distributed, if that's what's needed to stay one step ahead of the law.
Before he can do any of that, though, he'll have to find another company willing to lease him a 3D printer.
Wilson explains himself in the video below. Note that this was released before any of the recent 3D printer access problems.