Earlier this week, the Wiki Weapons Project--an initiative to create a 3-D printed handgun and distribute the digital design file for free online--ran into a stumbling block when 3-D printer provider Stratasys pulled the lease on a printer it had provided the group. Stratasys cited a clause in the lease agreement that allows the company to rescind a lease for printers believed to be used for unlawful purposes. That raises the obvious (and thorny) question: Is the Wiki Weapons Project doing anything illegal?
We at PopSci are experts on many things, but federal firearms regulations and intellectual property law are not among them. As we understand it, one is required to obtain a federal firearms manufacturing license to produce firearms in this country--if those firearms are for sale. The Wiki Weapons Project has demonstrated no intention to sell any potential firearm it creates, but rather to create a freely distributed digital file that would allow anyone with the right hardware and know-how to print their own firearm.
And the law doesn't have much to say about that, not explicitly, anyway. Regardless of your personal feelings toward the Wiki Weapons Project, it is at the very least forcing us to take a look at what happens in a world where information (which wants to be free) can be easily converted into physical objects--many of which (like firearms) are not supposed to flow freely.
"This raises lots of interesting questions," says Michael Weinberg, a staff attorney at Public Knowledge, a legal consortium focused on digital technology, the internet and intellectual property. "There are going to be a lot of stories in the future about people doing interesting things and uninteresting things with 3-D printing. The question people need to ask themselves is: was this possible before 3-D printing? And if so, did the use of a 3-D printer fundamentally change the nature of it. For this, it seems to me that the answer is no."
That's a common sentiment among the experts we talked to.
"With traditional machine tools, one is already capable of manufacturing one's own firearms," says Christopher Walsh, clinical instructional fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Although I am not an expert on gun control laws, I would be very surprised if existing regulations did not already account for home manufacture of firearms. Also, for the time being, it takes far less money, effort, and expertise to simply buy a firearm on the black market than to 3-D print one."
So the idea that there's no legal framework in place to govern the 3-D printing of guns isn't really accurate. Whatever laws govern the making of firearms at home by means other than 3-D printing should also regulate whatever the Wiki Weapons Project cooks up (assuming they can locate another 3-D printer). Of course, there are considerations beyond the strictly legal.
"From my perspective, this really doesn't raise novel questions of intellectual property rights, but common sense and potential civil and criminal liabilities," says Michael Powell, an intellectual property attorney in the Atlanta office of Baker Donelson. "What 'defense' is this group really trying to achieve that couldn't be achieved using a legal purchased firearm, or even a Taser, a can of pepper spray or mace, or other personal protection device?"
Wiki Weapons Project leader Cody Wilson, a University of Texas Law Student himself, claims the project is about "collapsing the distinction between digital information and material goods" and a "statement to these international kleptocrats that this isn't in your control anymore." Less inflammatory, perhaps, is Wilson's assertion that 3-D printing is a technology whose time has come. So if the Wiki Weapons Project isn't, strictly speaking, illegal under the current legal framework, what does this mean for the future of free information in a world where data can quickly become a physical object? How could something like this influence the future of intellectual property law? And is Wiki Weapons, by pushing this idea of freedom of information in such a controversial way, undermining its own ideals?
"These files aren't guns," Weinberg says. "You have an Anarchist's Cookbook kind of question. Just information is generally pretty hard to make illegal. It's just information. So the fact that you can now get this file and it can tell you how to produce a gun is very similar to a recipe online that tells you how to build a bomb or something like that. Just because a Web site tells you how to do something like that doesn't make the Web site illegal."
At least not yet. At some point in the future it could be, depending on how legislatures decide to deal with perceived threats to law and order. And hopefully, Weinberg says, they won't deal with this technology by overreacting.
"Technology is ahead of the law in a lot of ways," Weinberg says. "One of the things I tell policy makers a lot is that when you have a new technology where it's not clear how it's going to be used or how it's going to be adopted, the worst things you can do is imagine the most dystopian future you can possibly imagine and then try to regulate to prevent that dystopian future. For two reasons: One, because that dystopian future is never going to happen, so on one level you've wasted your time. But the most pernicious thing is that what you inevitably do is you outlaw things that could've been very productive and useful, things that you weren't smart enough to think of at the time. So not only are you not preventing this dystopia, but you are actively preventing positive outcomes."
Harvard's Walsh agrees.
"It is an area that will raise many new questions," he says. "But the hope is that we will not overreact and sacrifice either the positive potential of this new technology or Constitutional protections."
Wow, this is tossing a mystery ingredient in the home soup recipe. I believe in the right to bear arms. And I understand the importance of regulating and registering weapons.
Still, even if a law is made to not allow this printing of home weapons. I do not think the law will have any bite too it. The reality is, any person has always had the ability to make a weapon in their home, with no one's knowledge. I am not sure how they could actually stop it.
This is a gremlin in the laws for regulating and registration weapons. Even if these plastic weapons have a short shooting life with the heat of bullets; it only takes one or few more shots to kill someone anyways. Then melt down the gun and easily destroy the evidence, plus the ballistics.
The relevant document for the question of whether it is legal for an unlicensed individual to manufacture a firearm is "TITLE 18, UNITED STATE CODE, CHAPTER 44".
Much of the apparent ambiguity and confusion here is because there is no specific provision that explicit states that it is legal. Rather, the code states what is illegal. Before I go on, I'll preface this explanation with the disclaimer that the conclusion below is not just my own opinion, but the ATF itself has made the following conclusion and has stated it verbatim in letters available online and here:
So here we go into the rabbit hole... from title 18, USC, chapter 44
§ 922 Unlawful acts.
(a) It shall be unlawful—
(1) for any person—
(A) except a licensed importer, licensed
manufacturer, or licensed
dealer, to engage in the business of
importing, manufacturing, or dealing
in firearms, or in the course of such
business to ship, transport, or receive
any firearm in interstate or foreign
Key word here is "engage in the business of", which is defined earlier in chapter 44:
21) The term "engaged in the business"
(A) as applied to a manufacturer of
firearms, a person who devotes time,
attention, and labor to manufacturing
firearms as a regular course of trade
or business with the principal objective
of livelihood and profit through
the sale or distribution of the firearms
further definition from chapter 44:
22) The term "with the principal
objective of livelihood and profit"
means that the intent underlying the
sale or disposition of firearms is predominantly
one of obtaining livelihood
and pecuniary gain, as opposed to
other intents, such as improving or liquidating
a personal firearms collection:
Provided, That proof of profit shall not
be required as to a person who engages
in the regular and repetitive purchase
and disposition of firearms for
criminal purposes or terrorism.
So essentially, the ATF is of the opinion that, provided you are not "IN THE BUSINESS" or manufacturing the firearm, you are not violating any provisions under 18 USC, Ch 44, section 922, and therefore are lawfully manufacturing the firearm.
Of course (and this is an IMPORTANT caveat), you could create a firearm that violates other provisions of 922, for instance ones related to NFA firearms, machine guns, or banned imported military firearms. But generally speaking, pistols, rifle, shotguns and semi-automatic 'assault rifles' (dont get me started on that term...) are all treated equally under the applicable provisions of section 922.
A note to PopSci: Some of your readers happen to be knowledgeable... hopefully numerous notes from myself and others spurred this article, but I find it hard to believe you couldnt find any legal authority, or ask the ATF directly, the legality of manufacture of firearms for private use.
Here is the letter I referenced from the ATF on this topic;
I like these kinds of things purely for watching these lawmakers and legal teams scramble to figure out how laws apply to a technology that didn't exist when the law was made.
Unfortunately, whether or not you are "in the business of", the ATF is going to go after you anyways.
Even if it was illegal to manufacture a firearm for personal use, the only illegal part is the lower receiver. I could print out every other part of an AR15, and then buy the lower receiver and I'd be fine.
Gun laws are crazy though, and if the ATF doesn't like you, they'll find a way to screw you.
There is nothing new about this issue at all. The technology of building is not a factor in the law. How you make it doesn't matter. One could take bamboo and a propellent and create a controlled device. The link to a PDF above was as clear as it needs to be. That only applies to Federal laws, city and state would need to be also discovered.
What you make matters and how you transport or sell it does in a few places. One very important issue is a tax on each controlled part that must be paid. That tax was supposed to go for hunter education and wildlife restoration but always seems to be misused for other things.
You and all your legal "experts" failed to mention the primary reason why the project could very well be illegal and why Stratasys likely pulled the lease.
As you rightly point out it is not illegal to make a gun at home not intended for sale.
What is likely a felony is creating an all or mostly plastic gun. Federal law states that any attempt to make a gun to evade standard detection measures is a felony.
Excellent point! 18 USC Ch 44 Section 922, part p is what you're referring to (posted below). This will likely hold water for this case because their stated intent it to create and provide for a COMPLETELY plastic firearm (though it really will be as dangerous to the user as the victim... but that's another argument). As a side note... it looks like PopSci only consulted technology and IP lawyers... it might have been wise for them to have contacted literally ANYONE with legal understanding of the Gun Control Act... or the BATF (that's exactly what they exist for).
Back on topic... Should wikiweapons decide to incorporate some metal components (a metal barrel might be a good idea!), then they would likely be in the clear; just need enough metal to be detected by the calibrated metal detector (would probably be a good idea to ask the BATF of you can verify). As for paragraph 1B, it doesn't require the weapon be metal for compliance. Most airport xray machines are capable of discerning the shape of many non-metallic objects, so provided the plastic used is not transparent to the machine, you'd also be in the clear.
And.... for everyone's reference:
(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm—
(A) that, after removal of grips, stocks, and magazines, is not as detectable as the Security Exemplar, by walk-through metal detectors calibrated and operated to detect the Security Exemplar; or
(B) any major component of which, when subjected to inspection by the types of x-ray machines commonly used at airports, does not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component. Barium sulfate or other compounds may be used in the fabrication of the component.
(2) For purposes of this subsection—
(A) the term “firearm” does not include the frame or receiver of any such weapon;
(B) the term “major component” means, with respect to a firearm, the barrel, the slide or cylinder, or the frame or receiver of the firearm; and
(C) the term “Security Exemplar” means an object, to be fabricated at the direction of the Attorney General, that is—
(i) constructed of, during the 12-month period beginning on the date of the enactment of this subsection, 3.7 ounces of material type 17–4 PH stainless steel in a shape resembling a handgun; and
(ii) suitable for testing and calibrating metal detectors:
Provided, however, That at the close of such 12-month period, and at appropriate times thereafter the Attorney General shall promulgate regulations to permit the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms previously prohibited under this subparagraph that are as detectable as a “Security Exemplar” which contains 3.7 ounces of material type 17–4 PH stainless steel, in a shape resembling a handgun, or such lesser amount as is detectable in view of advances in state-of-the-art developments in weapons detection technology.
On the data service side, yes, absolutely, very much legal (as far as I can tell, but I'm no lawyer...)
BUT... Since his stated intent was to not only develop and provide the models of the gun as a service (not necessarily illegal), but also to manufacture it. That second part changes the game.
If he does make a test model, no matter his intentions for doing so, and it is completed to the point that it can be classified as a firearm (as defined in the Gun Control Act), it must comply with all applicable provisions of Title 18 Ch 44 Section 922. If he were to manufacture, even as a proof of concept, his fully plastic pistol, he would be in violation of paragraph p (post above yours) and open to criminal prosecution.
At this time he hasn't actually manufactured anything, so he hasn't committed a crime. His stated intent though would violate current law as it is stated, so that is likely enough to fulfill the lease clauses that the 3D printer company used to terminate the lease on the 3D printer.
I think it should be legal but treat it as such as you would for people who have the right-to-carry and have a safety course. Essentially, people would have to get a permit after attending a class (lenthy I hope for multiple safety concerns), background checks, etc. We give the people the right to carry concealed (I'm one), so why shouldn't we give them the same right to make their own guns to bypass overpriced weaponry from gun manufacturers. Of course, I'm sure there would be a tracking system in place for the 3-D printers to ensure these people weren't just entering crime and selling their guns then to any Joe Shmoe, probably a gun selling liscense or distribution liscense. Either way, it shouldn't be easy to do, but it should still be achieveable.
@b.a.baracas I cant seem to get away from these articles on PopSci... I apologize to you all :(
The fact remains, you DO have the right to make your own firearms already, with no licensing or training requirements (unless the state you live in requires such to own a firearm... many don't). If it is legal for you to own a particular firearm (i.e. not a NFA regulated firearm, banned, or import controlled), you can build it yourself legally. PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR DECADES.
The only reason this article poses this questions is many people didn't realize that we've been privately manufacturing (without any licensing)firearms legally for many decades (probably longer actually)using other machine tools... and then someone came along and built some parts for a gun with a new and trendy tool (3D printer) and got some press. All the folks that didn't know you could already do this assumed that 3D printing suddenly changed the game and it couldn't possibly be safe or legal for a regular Joe to build a gun on his own... but they never bothered to listen to the fact that nothing had changed and we just now have a different tool to do the same stuff we've been doing for a long time.
Most people know (or I hope they do) that people regularly load their own ammunition for personal use, and have since the revolutionary war and beyond. This whole fiasco is akin to someone making a bullet with a 3D printer and everyone panicking... why? I can go down to the local trading post (and even walmart up until a few years ago) and buy every component to build a bullet or shotgun shell, and small hand press to put it together, and presto! So why is the legal situation of doing so all of a sudden different because I bought a different tool to make the bullet?
Side Note: this is something I thought about after my multiple original posts, as a further proof of the legality of creating your own firearms, is that the GCA treats manufacture of ammunition identically to the manufacture of firearms, in that you must be a licensed manufacturer to be 'in the business of' loading ammunition. The unwritten exemption of loading ammunition for personal use is based on the exact same premise as the exemption for firearms manufacture for personal use.
Another point (because I love reading my own righting!) that is interesting is how much we are worried about this group making available a 'blue print' (in the form of a 3D model) for a complete firearm...
Just as an exercise, do a quick search for AR-15 CAD files... or 1911 CAD files... better yet, I'll just do it for you.
Complete detailed CAD models for the AR-15 (the gun pictured in this article) and the 1911 pistol. Both designs are public domain now (no IP issues), and these designs could be used by anyone with "the right hardware and know-how", as the article says.
There are far better resources than that site, by the way. Just one of the top search results.
Again, what had this group of people changed?
I think when it becomes possible to print a gun manufacturers will be the first to do it.
Robot, wasn't there a debate about this a long time ago, over, oh I don't know, the 3D printed handcuff keys? Sgt. B, you were in on that one too, and you iambronco
Did I call it or did I call it? I TOLD you this was going to happen. I told every. Last. One of you. Don't believe me? Just take a looksee
Now do you believe me?
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
Guns are not dangerous, people are. Guns and other weapons can only make people more dangerous. The good thing about guns is that they provide the same amount of force to a 98lb woman as a knife to a 160lb man - with far less traning; and equal force to both. The question of weather people should have access to weapons is a question of how much one wants to suppress those weaker than others.
"...Did I call it or did I call it? I TOLD you this was going to happen. I told every. Last. One of you. Don't believe me?...".
Are you looking for a cookie? The fact that the author publishes this information for the public to beware of and respond too, gives a clue somebody was thinking about prior to you. But hey, if you in desperate need of a pat on the back or a reward of sorts just publish you house address buddy and a cookie will be in mail for you. ;)
Besides, typically in the wonderful world of electronics, things always getting better and cheaper, just wait until anyone can afford and have their own "Death Ray Laser" at home or just make it with public schematics down loaded off the internet for free. They can kill from miles away, with a computer aid guidance tripod system and there be no ballistics at all and silent too.
no printer needed
and the barrel will last longer and fire somehting more lethal than a plastic one
"No, officer that is not a bomb it is a 3d printer."
"Then what is in those metal tubes?"
"The base material used in the 3d fabrication."
"And those wires coming from the car battery?"
"The base material has to be heated in order to be formed."
"And what is that alarm clock wired into it for?"
"So that I can set the machine to start at a later time to schedual when the project will be done."
"And what does this 3d printer create?"
"Well, why, I am, uh, so glad you asked that officer . . . "
"And? What does it print?"
"Very well, carry on."
"Thank you officer."
Pointless story. If you can afford a 3-d printer, you can buy any gun you want already.
@mordrud, not pointless. 3D printers and the base materials (the "toner"), like most technology, will drop in price drastically once demand for it is sufficient. Once 3D printers are common in households (2 years? 5 years?) the cost of the weapon will be the same as the cost of the materials alone.
PLUS, no waiting period, no background check, no age requirement, and no license required.
Did PopSci redo this story or did they just erase all of the comments suggesting that we regain our natural rights as defended and provided for in the Constitution and its amendments?
Every human being has the inherent and inalienable right to self defense. If you don't believe this, then I wish you luck and for a person meaning harm to you to visit you shortly. Because we ALL have this natural right, and because the second amendment acknowledges that no infringement upon that right is valid; it should be apparent to all that the ATF and EVERY law concerning weapons is invalid, unconstitutional, and contrary to the natural order. The only thing propping up such distopian ideas, is the natural fear of small minded people. These are the same people who a few thousand years ago would have seen frogs always near water and assume that frogs spring into existence from the streams and ponds.
There should be no regulation on any right whatsoever. And still some people just don't get it and I'll bet they never will. I pity them, but I view them with disgust even more.
> "Complete detailed CAD models for the AR-15 (the gun pictured in this article) and the 1911 pistol. Both designs are public domain now (no IP issues), and these designs could be used by anyone with "the right hardware and know-how", as the article says."
> "Guns are not dangerous, people are. Guns and other weapons can only make people more dangerous. The good thing about guns is that they provide the same amount of force to a 98lb woman as a knife to a 160lb man - with far less traning; and equal force to both. The question of weather people should have access to weapons is a question of how much one wants to suppress those weaker than others."
I believe that a lot of commenters in this thread of stories have missed a point (I did until yesterday) - there is a large group of people who do not currently have the knowledge or skills to manufacture their own gun but would be able to figure out a 3-D printer. That would be children under 10. Enough said, from my POV.
Is this a serious concern when you live in America and can buy a gun easier then printing one out?
“When Ignorance lurks, so too do the frontiers of discovery and imagination”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson
Why would that be a serious concern? Every adult should own a few firearms and carry them consistantly. There is no better way to create a law abiding and poliet society than to arm everyone.
After all, law enforcement are nothing more than normal citizens with the authority to arrest and use force. When those rights are extended, how many criminals would find themselves out of work when the police is everyone?
Even if a 10 year old can manufacture the gun, there is still the issue of ammo. A bullet-free gun is worthless.
Considering that I can craft a working, single shot, 12g shotgun from about $15 worth of pipe and materials with no tool more advanced than a drill and a hacksaw means that no one is ever going to completely disarm me. Add in the fact that a blackpowder armcannon is as easy to make, and even if ammo is outlawed, I could still shoot a deer or shell a building with nothing but knowledge and common hardware.
The only people who fear guns are those who are without them.
@ oaksparr, you are close on that whole cop thing. In actuality, all gov't authority is derived from the rights of the individual. The use of force is only allowable in a defensive role and the authority to arrest an individual is an extension of that and your right to self defense. Cops have no more authority than you or I. However, they often imagine themselves Gods and people with weak wills will often go along with what anyone with a stronger will says.
BUT, I do like the part about you never being completely disarmed. I too feel this way. If need be, I could easily fashion several types of explosive weapons with no more than a hacksaw and my dewalt drill. In fact, that is how thousands of Afhan's have been able to attack our troops despite being "disarmed". No human is ever truly disarmed until he is dead. There is no way around that and it amazes me that so many people think that a man w/o a gun is incapable of murder.
I dont know much about 3-d printing, but I do know a lot about firearms, having been a shooter, machinist, and amateur gunsmith for a couple of decades.
It seems that a lot of posters here are in a tizzy over the idea that someone could print up an AR15, pop it out of the printer and go on a shooting spree. The 5.56x45 round generates about 62,000 psi during ignition. I am pretty sure that a plastic bolt, barrel, and barrel extension are going to be around a factor of 1000x too weak to withstand that kind of force. A plastic buffer would not have sufficient mass to allow proper cycling of the action, a plastic firing pin does not have sufficient mass to detonate the primer, a plastic hammer might be able to drive a steel firing pin, but the sear surfaces would not last more than a few cycles as plastic. There are also things like the gas tube, springs, pins, etc. that will have to be steel as well. So to me, the idea of an ALL plastic gun that can fire high pressure commercial ammunition is laughable at best. Even the lowly .45 ACP generates 21,000 psi. The bottom line is that to make a real world functioning firearm, you will need a large number of precision machined steel parts. You might be able to construct a single shot throw away pistol that might fire a low pressure pistol cartridge 1 or 2 times with a bare minimum of metal content, but a functional AR15? No freaking way.
Now, if you are just talking about printing a stripped plastic lower and upper receiver , which are typically forged aluminum, and then assembling them using conventional steel parts, that probably is possible, since there are several manufacturers out there already making polymer receiver halves.
10 year old Johhny printing a functional AR and terrorizing the neighborhood? Not going to happen until the printers can print close tolerance precision machined high tensile steel parts like barrels, bolts, springs, etc.
"We at PopSci are experts on many things, but federal firearms regulations and intellectual property law are not among them."
Not only that but you are not knowledgeable about the physics of firearms.
Would it not be better to consult with the experts rather than write an article that is simply wrong on so many points?
wow, just as I predicted (just believe me), this discussion went well off topic.
A) is the guy with the printer doing something illegal? we don't have enough info? As said above, if he is building suppressors, NFA guns (Class III machine guns, etc) then yes. If not, then he isn't. I suspect he has a valid court case with the 3D printer company.
B) Intellectual property, Can I build my own IPAD for personal use. Does the law prohibit me building and using a product still under patent if I don't sell it? Don't know but that may be the other aspect of this case, was he breaking laws on intellectual property. That would really be a stretch for the 3D company to say was the problem. Especially as pointed out correctly above, the plans for CNC machines to make replicas of 1911's and AR's have been available for awhile.
C) As to felons getting guns, they really don't need this and the law says they can't possess them as well, so build or buy, they are breaking the law. But we know bad guys don't really care, if you are willing to go on to a school campus and kill students, posting that guns are illegal doesn't seem to be a barrier to such behavior.
You are definitely correct in your reasoning, but the problem is that all these "laws" are in fact unconstitutional.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
infringe vb [Latin infringere] 1: violate, transgress 2: encroach, trespass
Yes I know the supreme court has ruled some laws can violate certain rights, but in fact the text of the 2nd amendment does not state that supreme court has such a right. SO all rulings done by the supreme "joke" court are unconstitutional.They should have put at the end of the text (And we're not kidding).
People need to seriously wake up, actually never mind everyone go back to sleep like good little sheep.