U.S. orders 3-D printer gun plans off website

Published May 11, 2013 at 05:00AM

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials have told the Texas creator of a plastic gun that was made from a 3-D printer and successfully test-fired last weekend to take down online blueprints for the weapon.

The move by the State Department, under its authority to review arms exports, followed the posting of an online video by Defense Distributed showing a demonstration of its handgun, the Liberator. The gun, which looks like a water pistol but fires a .380 caliber bullet, was almost entirely made on a printer that can fabricate solid objects from blueprints. A nail was used as a firing pin.

Cody Wilson, a founder of Defense Distributed, an Austin nonprofit, said he had complied with the government request, but that he and his attorneys were reviewing their options and talking to a number of organizations that support open-access to information about challenging any ongoing ban.

In the case of the Liberator, the State Department’s request came after 100,000 downloads of instructions on how to make the gun. Those plans have since been uploaded to file-sharing sites beyond the reach of the U.S. government.

“This is just the beginning of the attempt to regulate these distributed technologies,” said Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas who describes himself as a libertarian opposed to government control. He called the test-firing of the plastic weapon outside Austin an “ideological victory.”

The emergence of 3-D printing, a technology still in its infancy and relatively expensive, has already begun to raise questions about whether governments can, or should, attempt to regulate the private manufacture of “printed” guns. These weapons are also potentially undetectable during standard security screenings at airports and other locations — a threat that has begun to alarm some lawmakers.

Two New York Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Steve Israel, have said they will push for new legislation to outlaw the manufacture of 3-D plastic guns.

“Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser,” Israel said in a statement. “When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology appears to be upon us, we need to act now to extend the ban on plastic firearms.”

In a letter to Wilson, the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance gave the company three weeks to submit documentation that would show its online blueprints do not fall under the jurisdiction of the State Department. It cited a number of items besides the gun, including plans for a 3-D plastic silencer and sight, among other gun parts.

“Although we do not comment on whether we have individual ongoing compliance matters, we can confirm that the Department has been in communication with the company,” according to a statement from the State Department. “The United States is cognizant of the potentially adverse consequences of indiscriminate arms transfers and, therefore, strictly regulates exports of defense items and technologies to protect its national interests and those interests in peace and security of the broader international community.”