"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." -- Alexander Hamilton

The Founding Fathers of the United States were firm advocates of citizens having the option to own firearms.  While today's guns are a far cry from those handmade, carefully crafted muskets of yore, the Founding Fathers would likely be enthused by the recent trend of do-it-yourself gun-making using 3D printers.

While lacking the gas-fed firing of "automatic"/"assault" weapons, 3D gun designs have grown increasingly reliable and sophisticated, making them a practical tool for self defense.  And with the advent of relatively affordable 3D printers -- like the Afinia H-Series (price: $1,599 USD) -- 3D guns are poised to explode in use among America's numerous gun enthusiasts.

I. Obama Administration "Treads Upon" Defense Distributed

But many in the U.S. federal government today don't agree with the sentiments of the Founding Fathers are pushing aggressively to ban 3D firearms, including President Barack Obama (D).

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State sent a letter to Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old University of Texas, Austin law student, who is the founder of Defense Distributed, an organization of 3D gun enthusiasts that post schematics online for the DIY firearms.

The Liberator
Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, has been ordered by the Obama administration's State Department to take its 3D printed gun schematics -- including "The Liberator" (pictured) offline. [Image Source: Forbes]

The government is demanding that Mr. Wilson remove plans for his most popular model -- "The Liberator" -- and nine other designs from his group's website  The government is essentially looking to take down the gun schematics on a technicality.  It's arguing that by allowing the schematics to be downloaded overseas, Mr. Wilson may be violating the arms export control laws known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) (22 CFR § 127.1).  The State Department is "graciously" allowing him to take down the design in exchange for leniency.

Officials write:

Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled.

This means that all data should be removed from public acces immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements.

II. The Liberator is Still Alive and Well on The Pirate Bay

Mr. Wilson begrudgingly agreed to comply with the request.  Legally he believes that his guns may be protected under the safe harbor clause of the ITAR, which provides exemptions for non-profit research and public interest projects.  

However, he says the key obstacle is that the safe harbor clause is outdated; it allows projects like his to distribute materials via printed works in libraries or bookstores.  But he argues the internet is today's bookstore/library, given its wealth of text and public access.

Regardless of whether his appeal of the takedown succeeds, the government's efforts to pry The Liberator, also known as the "Wiki Gun", from the public's cold dead hands may be harder than the government thinks.  Plans for the gun have been downloaded 100,000 times, mostly in the U.S. Several copies have been uploaded to The Pirate Bay, which has precious few (cares) to give regarding U.S. censors.  

The Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay is hosting the 3D gun blueprints. [Image Source: World Under Control]

Defense Distributed's own files were not hosted on its servers, but rather were distributed by Kim Dotcom's new file-sharing supersite, Mega.  Mr. Wilson would not reveal whether the files would be removed from Mega, so it seems likely his group is simply removing the link, but that Mega users will still be able to snag the plans.

III. Single-Use 3D-Printed Gun Costs ~$5 USD 

Defense Distributed was found in mid-2012 and aimed to raise $20,000 USD via a crowd-source initiative.  Initially it sought funds for "the Wiki Weapon" via IndieGogo, but the crowdsourcing fundraising platform yanked DD's petition due to alleged terms-of-service violations.  Since then DD has raised a significant portion of the funds, anyhow, via its PayPal donate link on its website.  DD also endured the seizure of its leased 3D printer for unspecified reasons by the manufacturer Stratasys.

Early 3D guns suffered melting of the barrel after only a single shot.  But the 0.380 caliber weapon -- while officially being single-shot -- is capable of firing as many as six shots in fire testing.  3D plastic sights and silencers for the weapon have been developed as well.  DD is working on more advanced designs capable of longer-term use.

The Liberator Liberator in pieces
The Liberator fires a 0.380-caliber round. [Image Source: Forbes]

The Liberator costs around $5 USD [source] to make out of ABS plastic, once you have the printer.  Gun control advocates are concerned about people sneaking the gun through airport or other security checkpoints for use in terrorism/crimes.  On the other hand, gun advocates might also argued that gun-toting citizens could also smuggle the weapon and use it to defend against a terrorist attack or crime, should law enforcement officials be absent or incapacitated.  
Carrying plastic weapons through airport security is, of course, illegal in the U.S., so even the latter use would be a serious "crime" from the federal government's perspective.

Source: Forbes

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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