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.

avatar

About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

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

  1. avatarrosignol says:

    So…. has he set up a paypal account we can contribute to if (when) he begins to accumulate legal expenses?

    Bearing in mind that I’m not kicking in a single cent until he has legal expenses, of course.

  2. avatarPascal says:

    Enough press mixed with enough AGs or politicians willing to make headlines to drum up their left leaning base, and we will soon have a change in the law to make this illegal. They will time it close to some success that is made and since they can make laws faster than they can be be repealed especially if we have 4 more years of Obama, this will surely be doomed. That said, their is a lot of good information that will be learned from this experiment and I wish him luck on the manufacturing and legal front — who knows he may start a gun company may lead a case in court to move gun rights forward. Either way, I wish him lots of luck!

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      I agree with Pascal. The 3D printing process clearly has limitations, otherwise we would already see much more of it in use. A door handle is one thing which could be easily printed or carved out of wood, as in the video above. An accurate, functional firearm is another thing entirely.

      Even if Cody did manage to make something useful such as a functional lower receiver for an AR-15, laws could be changed pretty quickly to prohibit manufacturing or possession.

      The flip side, is that the availability of the Internet and 3D printing could make it no longer feasible to regulate everything. Dear Lord, we could lose the ATF! (Such a bummer!)

      Godspeed, Cody.

  3. avatarRambeast says:

    There is no doubt, if the project comes to pass, the ATF (read: Gun Naz!s) will crack down harder than they did at Waco. I do not contribute my hard earned cash to many causes, but this one will get my full support. Start up, legal, and other fees.

  4. avatarRyan says:

    Well since the 3d printing teck I have used is outdated and can apparently print something that can stand up to a 22 I have another concern. The cost. The price of plastic used was astronomical. Has the price gone down?

    • avatarrosignol says:

      It’s coming down, yeah. And they expect ‘printers’ that can handle metal in a year or two.

      Not sure what kind of metal, tho.

  5. avatarflyboy says:

    The prices of ABS and PLA are currently about $20US per pound.

  6. avatarBilly Wardlaw says:

    I think you are needlessly causing confusion with your inclusion of this particular video. The video is of an Industrial level manufacturing process and is NOT the printing process accessible to the average person that is the topic of discussion.

  7. avatarbontai Joe says:

    I recall how Romania regulated paper copying machines and typewriters in an effort to restrict the creation and distribution of anti-government pamphlets. Such devices were licenced, and subject to inspection at any time, the owners were also subject to immediate arrest if there was even a suspicion of an infraction. I can this coming to the US if 3D printers can indeed easily create homebuilt firearms. Because if left unregulated, EVERYBODY will have a shoulder thingy that goes up.

  8. avatarWill says:

    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.”

    What about the .22 short? they’re still around.

  9. avatarVoiceOfReason says:

    Please stay away from this one. Seriously.
    Cody’s political leanings are sure to get him in trouble and that may rub off on others too. If you look at the Defense Distributed website under “events”, you will see that his very first interview was with a podcast called “Anarchy Gumbo”. I listened to it to see if there was anything redeeming in what Cody had to say, but unfortunately, this guy is a paranoid anti-government nut plain and simple. Unless you want to lower TTAG to the level of “Anarchy Gumbo”, just steer clear from now on. He is trouble.

    BTW if you want a dirt-cheap gun, just google the Phillipino slam-bang (AKA “Philipino Guerilla Gun”), and you’ll see what $15 and some elbow grease can do for you… legally (in most states, assuming you meet the minimum NFA barrel and overall lengths) and with no 3D printer required. Personally though, I’d rather shell out $150 or $200 for a decent pump 12GA whose barrel is not as likely to explode in my face.

    • avatarDerek Dauma says:

      To a Statist, Freedom and Liberty are troubling concepts indeed.

      What part of “shall not be infringed” is difficult to understand?

      • avatarVoiceOfReason says:

        Derek, my friend, call me names if you’d like, but I would suggest you think very carefully about whose side you choose. I am not slamming the idea of democratizing gun manufacturing. I am simply concerned about backing one particular person who has made some poor choices when it comes to whom he associates with and what he says on public record.

        If I didn’t believe in the idea, then I would not have mentioned the 50+ year-old idea of the slam-bang (aka guerrilla shotgun, aka “four winds”), but, when the person who is now the media-induced voice of the “plastic gun movement” is a paranoid delusional, and when that person talks openly about violent political change, there’s a good chance that the “movement” will not end well.

        If you want a cheap junk gun, then look around online. Some of the best how-to’s were actually written by the US government! If you want to end up on some watch list because you donated money to a guy who talks about making homemade guns for the purpose of inducing violent political change, then enjoy those body cavity searches at the airport Derek. Better you than me!

    • avatarNotafed says:

      Rest assured that the government believes strongly in defending itself just like us citizens do. If you threaten the gov, you will be viewed as a threat. That is much different than standing up for your right to self defense or gun ownership.

    • avatarNotafed says:

      Anarchists are Utopianists just like Socialists, Communists, Fascists, and Obamaists. If you see no danger then you are either ignorant, a fool, or an Anarchist.

  10. avatarSanchanim says:

    There was an article somewhere on a polymer based lower.
    What type of martial is this? I am assuming not ABS.
    You could take the CAD files and then us it to make a mold, for high strength polymer injection, or if you have a CNC, yipee!! Well that would be illegal I know…
    BTW CNC machines can be had for a few grand, minus cutting bits, but if we are discussing manufacturing gone nuts, that would be it…

    • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Here’s the ugly truth about machines, both manual and CNC:

      The cost of the machine itself is… only a small part of the story. I won’t say it’s a minor part of the story – in the case of used CNC machines, it can be.

      If you get into machining stuff, you quickly realize that the machine itself is the “dime bag” of metalworking mania. The tooling, fixtures, accessories, DRO’s, metrology instruments, CAD software, etc – the combined costs run from the thousands to 10′s of thousands of dollars.

  11. avatarAPBTFan says:

    I’m certainly no expert on those printers but even if they can soon work with metals you’re still stuck with a laminated part made of low grade metal. I can’t imagine printed metal parts being able to handle the stresses of a center fire firearm.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.