Both the Obama administration and Congress have been busy with firearm-related business in recent months, with the Department of Justice offering up a series of regulatory changes relating to firearms, and members of the U.S. House introducing legislation and appropriations riders aimed at rolling back some of the current restrictions and complications.
The issue that has caught the most attention within the firearms community is a proposal from the Department of State to “clarify” regulations regarding the “export” of “military technology.”
The proposal was obviously spurred by the 3D printing activists at Defense Distributed, who have sued the federal government for suppression of their First Amendment rights.
Defense Distributed is a company founded by libertarian-minded college student, Cody Wilson, who wanted to prove the futility of gun control laws by demonstrating the simplicity of firearm manufacture using 3D printer technology. While firearms have previously been made using traditional machining processes, taking a chunk of metal and carving away everything that didn’t look like a gun, 3D printing reverses that process, spraying layer after layer of material (usually plastic) to build a three-dimensional shape.
The company caught quite a bit of media attention by building prototypes for an AR-type lower receiver (the part regulated by U.S. law as a firearm), a functional, 30-round magazine for the same model, and a single-shot .380 caliber pistol they dubbed the “Liberator Pistol.” The code for the AR lower is basically a reworking of existing, and widely available code used to direct computer controlled milling machines to carve the lowers out of aluminum. They just adapted it to drive 3D printers, and tweaked the design to beef up stress points where the plastic might break. The Liberator pistol consists of one portion that houses a spring and striker, and another piece that serves as the barrel. The magazine is just a plastic box with a spring in the bottom that functions like a PEZ candy dispenser.
There’s no rocket science here. All of this is easier to do with traditional drilling and carving than it is with 3D printing, but the printing has a higher “cool factor,” and if you have the code, and the expensive 3D printer, requires no skill at all.
All of the files were posted on the company’s website for anyone to look at or download, but shortly after the plans for the Liberator pistol were posted, Wilson got a letter from the State Department telling him to take the files down because they could be a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, and the Arms Export Control Act. These laws and regulations fall under the purview of the U.S. State Department to ensure that weapons of war are only exported to people and places approved by the U.S. government – like Mexican drug lords and America-hating Shia Islamists fighting America-hating Suni Islamists.
The cease and desist order to Defense Distributed raises all sorts of red flags regarding freedom of speech and control of technology.
It is particularly bizarre considering the simplicity of single-shot pistols like the Liberator, and the fact that detailed designs for the AR rifle have been widely available in books since the 1960s, and on the internet since the days before the worldwide web. Any handy individual could make either of these devices in a matter of hours, using nothing but scrap materials and simple tools.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org