Company Takes Back 3D Printer For Wiki Weapons Project
With the growing popularity of 3D printers to make parts for almost just anything, and even do some rapid prototyping for a product, it's no surprise that such printers can be used to make real guns. This is what happened when earlier this year, the first 3D printed AR15 lower was first revealed and discussed at AR15.com which really generated a buzz online.
Now, with 3D blueprints of products available either freely or for a small fee online, here comes a group that would like to share designs for making your own guns. Wiki Weapons, whose website can be found at Defense Distributed, who believe that "No free man shall ever be ever debarred the use of arms" as taken from a quote from Thomas Jefferson as part of their manifesto plan to create the world's first 100% 3D Printable Gun. They were the group also behind the printed AR-15 lower receiver that received media attention and their objective is:
"Our initial Wiki Weapon (A) design has no moving parts and relies on a separate, inserted solenoid to fire. We begin with this design to learn from the ABS material itself, but this is a method of trial and error. At $5 per cubic inch, we are at the point where we need outside funds to produce and complete a proof gun. The result of the lessons we learn from WikiWep A will instruct the design and development of Wiki Weapon B, a fully-printable gun comprised of near 100% printable parts."
According to Wired.com, they were able to raise US$20,000 online to lease a 3D printer from Stratasys and also plan to share the blueprints of the gun that they are going to make online with the hope that anyone can download the blueprints and make one at home.
However, Stratasys, the company that leased the 3D printer sent an email that they want their printer returned citing that their project would be against federal laws and it's against their company policies that their printer be used for illegal activities. The company sent a contractor to pick-up the printer leaving the project in jeopardy.
Defense Distributed say that they are not doing anything illegal as U.S. Federal Law allows anyone to make a weapon provided that it's not for sale but it's not an absolute law as there are still weapons that need a license to manufacture as the Wired article continues… "Machine guns and sawed-off shotguns are illegal to manufacture without a license. There’s also a law requiring 'any other weapon, other than a pistol or a revolver … capable of being concealed on the person' to be subject to review by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)." It also goes further that if the pistol would be made mainly of plastic, it might also violate the Undetectable Firearms Act.
Indeed, it's what Optimus Prime calls a "New Animal" that we do not know how to respond to such issues of violating laws of countries with regards to new technology allowing us to make us legal and illegal products. The internet, even it's already an old technology, still provides new legal gray areas for a lot of governments that regulating the internet has been too reactionary rather than proactive enough not to stifle creativity and innovation.
If we are to go with the reasoning of Stratasys for seizing back their 3D printer, then a lot of companies may just look into their products that can be possibly used for such open source gun making projects such as CNC-machine makers, computer manufacturers, and software developers. Whilst it is understandable that Stratasys is concerned about illegal use of their product, isn't it up to the government authorities to determine that rather than they as a private organisation stating what is possible and not possible to do with their equipment? If the people behind Defense Distributed didn't announce that it was their 3D printer that will be leased for the project, will Stratasys be scrambling to seize it back?
Defense Distributed have been consulting with ATF and said they are not violating any laws as it's still a gray area. But they may need to get a license to manufacture the weapon if they still push through with the project.
Since it's a gray area, it's really tough to say if it's illegal until such 3D printed gun projects get tested in the courts where existing laws will be reviewed and if found lacking, new laws will need to be drafted. But it's also a caution for those who intend to make weapons, whether these are real or even imitation such as airsoft, with 3D printers as they might be violating their countries' own laws. The United Kingdom's Violent Crime Reduction Act (VCRA) forbids that, and we believe the Philippines too has a law regulating the manufacture of real and replica firearms especially one that will be intended to be sold without a licence. It is best to consult local authorities before undergoing such projects or else money and time will be wasted, and worse, you will be given a horrendous fine and jail time.
But if you just intend to make replacement parts with 3D printers, then it's not a problem. Only making complete weapons would your project run into complications. There are already 3D blueprints of airsoft guns being made available online, such as those from Killbuckets and Kuba. Whilst, it may be ok for other countries to make your own airsoft gun project, I'll stress first that you will need to be aware of local laws before undertaking the project. Though we hope that for airsoft guns, it will be perfectly alright as they are not lethal weapons and made for recreational purposes.
Though for now, what the airsoft community needs is a central repository of 3D blueprints for airsoft gun parts, whether open source for a small fee. It's sometimes hard to find replacement parts for certain airsoft guns. Now, that's a project that we can support.