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Despite court order, owner of 3D-printed gun blueprints is distributing them anyway

The libertarian activist who owns the 3D-printed gun blueprints says he has found a way around a federal court order.

Cody Wilson, libertarian activist and owner of Defense Distributed, holds up a 3D-printed gun that he designed.
Cody Wilson, a libertarian activist and the owner of Defense Distributed, holds up a 3D-printed gun that he designed.
Kelly West/AFP via Getty Images

The libertarian activist who was blocked by a federal court from publishing his 3D-printed gun blueprints is distributing them to the public anyway, Cyrus Farivar and Nathan Mattise reported for ArsTechnica.

Cody Wilson, the owner of Defense Distributed, said he’s still complying with the court order, which, he argued, only blocked him from publishing the blueprints for free on the internet. To get around that limitation, he’s charging a “suggested price” of $10 for each (although people can pay what they want) and distributing the blueprints via a mailed “DD-branded flash drive” or, potentially, email or secure download links.

“I’m happy to become the iTunes of 3D guns if I can’t be Napster,” Wilson said at a press conference.

The move takes advantage of part of US District Judge Robert Lasnik’s preliminary injunction, which effectively extended a restraining order from earlier in the year. While Lasnik forced the State Department to continue blocking Wilson from publishing his 3D-printed gun blueprints, Lasnik also wrote that the blueprint files “can be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted, or otherwise published within the United States.” The idea is that the regulation used to block Wilson only stops an international transfer, while these other means of distribution can be solely domestic.

The effect, however, may be the same: allowing people to obtain blueprints for a fully 3D-printed gun — which experts and advocates worry could open the door to a new wave of easily accessible, untraceable guns.

Since making a 3D-printed gun only requires a 3D printer, the right materials, and a blueprint, the concern is that 3D-printed guns will make it easy to bypass a host of state and federal laws. Printing a gun doesn’t require a background check or any documentation, offering a workaround for people who are legally prohibited from buying a gun now due to, say, a criminal record or a history of mental illness. A 3D-printed gun can also be made without a serial number or anything that would make these firearms easily traceable if they’re used in a crime.

The wide release of the 3D-printed gun blueprints, however, has only become an issue now in large part due to President Donald Trump’s administration.

The previous administration, under President Barack Obama, had forced Wilson to stop publishing these blueprints on his website, Wilson sued the administration in hopes of republishing his schematics. The case seemed like a win for the government, with multiple courts initially ruling in the government’s favor.

But once the Trump administration came in with its gun-friendly politics, the Justice Department abruptly agreed to a settlement — giving Wilson and his nonprofit, Defense Distributed, “essentially everything they wanted,” Andy Greenberg reported for Wired. The deal allowed Wilson to publish his blueprints starting in August and paid him $40,000 for his legal costs.

The federal court, however, seemed to put Wilson’s plans on hold. But now he may have found a workaround.

Wilson’s move speaks to the trouble governments will have stopping 3D-printed guns: The technology is out there, and the information is inevitably going to end up on the internet at some point. Even before Wilson’s latest move, there were websites hosting 3D printer designs for guns, and sites dedicated to hosting Wilson’s files, even as Wilson’s own ability to republish the documents was held up in court.

“Today I want to clarify, anyone who wants these files will get them — I’ll sell them, I’ll ship them,” Wilson said, according to ArsTechnica. “The free exchange of these ideas will never be interrupted. I’m also inviting the public to share their own files and share the profit with me.”

For more about the battle to stop 3D-printed guns, read Vox’s explainer.

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