An Interview with Cody R. Wilson of the WikiWeapon 3D Gun Printing Project

We’ve been covering the coming manufacturing revolution in firearms pretty closely, with the latest installment being Dan’s post yesterday. Simply put, 3D printing has enabled the home user to manufacture items easily and cheaply using plans downloaded from the internet, and most people see the next logical step being the home production of firearms. And while that scares most of the anti-gun crowd, one law student from Little Rock, Arkansas is pushing the envelope and trying to design a 3D printable firearm that he will make available on the internet. For free. And I had a chance to talk with him Monday afternoon about what’s going on . . .

My first question to Cody was about how he got into guns (hoping for a touching story about a grandfather and an afternoon with a 10/22 or something), and like the lawyer he’s studying to be Cody rejected my premise. “Its not clear to me that I’m even into guns” he retorted. “Its pointless to say now that I’m not a ‘gun’ guy, because at this point I kind of am whether I think of myself as one or not — I [only] bought my first gun last year. I really only ever respected the right to own a gun as a political tool and a theoretical thing than the actual physical things themselves.

“I think there’s a disservice that the NRA and other groups do to gun owners, and the second amendment itself, and really American republicanism when they say that we must preserve the right to sporting and to hunting and to the great tradition of gun ownership. No — the founding fathers simply saw that the public militia was the reason to preserve the right to bear arms[, and that arms are] useful as instruments to bloodily overthrow your government. I hate to put it in such sharp terms, but let’s be honest about what it is. Guns are implements of war. War is a tool of political change.”

Given his Farago-esque views on gun ownership and our rights thereof, it made me curious as to the goals behind the project that he started. Specifically, a project that would make 3D printed guns a reality for anyone with an internet connection and some spare cash.

“The goal is not to get guns into as many hands as possible, the goal is simply to provide access. The goal is to say, ‘in this world, in the world we want to create, anyone who wants access to a firearm can have access. Because we believe that is a right that no one should be allowed to infringe. Especially political actors.” His vision was clearly one where where not only is the oversight of the ATF and the U.S. Government ceased for firearms ownership, but that anyone in the world can exercise their right of self defense and enact political change. “Gun rights are human rights.”

It’s fair to say that a number of the regular writers on this blog find themselves somewhere close to his opinion, but the real question is whether the current state of 3D printing is able to make that happen. Does the technology and material exist to print complete 3D firearms?

“Definitely I think we need to do research into better materials. That’s part of what we’re doing as well with our lab setup that we’ve got going and our data acquisition systems. The first thrust of this project is to see what we can do with ABS [the softer and cheaper material used for 3D printing] or ABS-like materials because that’s what most people have access to right now. So would you have an arm that you would want to produce en masse? Probably not — you could have something that could work once, maybe, with a lower pressure round than a .22lr.” In short though, “no, the technology is not there yet.”

Of course, with anything involving guns and their production, you start running into legal questions pretty quickly. Things like whether it falls under the category of a Title 1 or Title 2 firearm. Title 1 firearms are only regulated under the Gun Control Act of 1968 and can be manufactured for personal use with little annoyance from the government, but Title II firearms are regulated under the National Firearms Act and require registration with the ATF on a Form 1 if you intend to assemble one.

“What is a WikiWeapon going to look like? That’s a problem I started having with the ATF. You don’t have a traditional looking gun that’s useful and concealable and other things because of your material limits. […] You basically have a plastic zip gun [right now].”

“The main question is, and I really don’t want to be the one to make the ATF come down on the site here[, …] is what you’re making on your 3D printer a title 1 or a title 2 firearm? A quick read of the GCA and the NFA doesn’t really yield easy answers. If you look and what you see looks like a pistol, I guess what you have is a pistol. But becuase it has a smooth bore due to the limitations of the material, or because its concealable and undetectable it might be a title 2.” Note: handguns with a smooth barrel are regulated under the National Firearms Act, which is why the Judge has a rifled barrel.

“No one has given a definitive answer. I haven’t submitted anything to the firearms technology branch or submitted a Form 1, and it’s not that I’m not going to do these things, but I realize that I’m on my own and when I do the ATF has a precedent on printable weapons. Do I want to be the guy to do that yet? To really ruin the home manufacturing system? […]

“And then there’s all kinds of other legal questions. Basically you blow off the entire ATF regulatory structure once gun printing comes of age. You blow out all the licensing and everything.”

While the legal implications of firearms manufacture are murky at best, some companies aren’t waiting for the dust to settle to cover their rear ends, legally speaking. There was a story last week about how a 3D printer that Cody had leased from a reputable company was yanked — they terminated his lease and sent a courier to retrieve it ASAP — when they found out what he had planned.

A replacement, however, is already in the works. “Its not going to be a problem getting another one” according to Cody. “Especially with all the press, lots of people who [sell used devices] or have 3D printers have offered to let me use theirs.”

Cody is optimistic about the future of 3D printing. He sees it as a way for people to exercise their natural rights without government interference, and a way to give people the means to enact real political change.