When Cody Wilson successfully designed, built and fired a gun he made with a 3-D printer, the media came running — and so did the feds.
Less than a week after the University of Texas law student test-fired his plastic weapon in Lockhart, the U.S. State Department emailed him a letter Thursday telling him to pull the weapon’s blueprints off his website. The government says he might have violated federal law by posting the instructions.
So Wilson complied with the request. But the issue, he said, is far from over. He hopes to find a lawyer to take up his cause, which is to supply the know-how to people who want to make their own guns.
“This isn’t going to go away,” said Wilson, 25. “This is obviously a politically motivated effort to see what we’re doing.”
The creation of what is being heralded as the world’s first functioning printer-created gun set off a firestorm of conflicting reactions this week. Some critics called for a ban on such weapons, saying they could fall into the wrong hands. Others admired the technology and defended Wilson’s right to share the blueprints on his site, defcad.org.
Wilson says the furor points to a fundamental issue facing the world: In the Internet age, the ability to share ideas online is unstoppable. The gun blueprints have been downloaded more than 100,000 times from his site alone, he said. Other file-sharing sites have posted his designs, providing bootleg copies of the blueprints to anyone who wants them.
The creation of the gun attracted a lot of attention. But after the State Department stepped in, Wilson’s phone never stopped ringing. On Friday, he said he had been interviewed by scores of media outlets.
“This has been tiring but deeply fulfilling, and it’s a great platform to talk about other ideas,” he said.
Three-D printers are machines that transform digital designs into physical objects from plastic and other materials. Wilson is the co-founder of Defense Distributed, a group devoted to producing and publishing information about 3-D firearms. He supports gun rights. He’s a Libertarian. He believes that government has no business trying to censor information.
Earlier this month, while reporters from BBC and Forbes looked on, Wilson shot the gun he calls “The Liberator” on private property in Lockhart. As the story spread, it reached the ears of the State Department.
Anyone who manufactures, exports or brokers weapons must register with the State Department, a spokesperson for the department told the American-Statesman. That includes transferring technical data “to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad,” its letter to Wilson reads.
Wilson says he is no stranger to those laws and has been complying with them. He has a federal license to manufacture firearms. The federal clampdown is simply a political move to control information, he said, and it’s only making his design more popular.
“That’s what makes everyone want it,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he built the gun by renting time on 3-D printers owned by people who knew what he was doing and thought the project “was pretty cool.”
On Friday, he announced on his Twitter account that the government had determined that “some shapes are more dangerous than others.”
A message on his website reads, “Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.”