The Wiki Weapon project is an initiative undertaken by Defense Distributed, a non-profit headed by University of Texas law student Cody Wilson aimed at generating a freely-distributed, open source design for a 3-D printed firearm--an idea that has come under serious fire from proponents of increased gun control in the U.S., particularly in light of last week's tragic shooting of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The idea behind the project--embraced by some, absolutely detested by others--is that technology will soon make regulating firearms virtually impossible. That is a very polarizing idea. But to say the very least Wiki Weapons is also a technologically intriguing project, one that forces us to examine some very relevant--some might say ominous--questions about new technological capabilities and where they are taking us, as well as what happens when technology gets way out in front of the law. We spoke with Wilson briefly this week hoping to address some of these questions. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Popular Science: It would be pointless for us to ignore the context in which we're speaking today, given the tragedy that unfolded in Connecticut last week. Defense Distributed has committed to creating a shareable, freely-distributed design for a working 3-D printed firearm--a way for anyone with a 3-D printer to quickly produce a working gun. Does an incident like this one in any way alter your conviction that this is the right thing to do?
Cody Wilson: No, not at all. If it did change what we thought you'd be right to recognize that we're not serious. I don't want to be confrontational about it, but I will say it this way: understanding that rights and civil liberties are something that we protect is also understanding that they have consequences that are also protected, or tolerated. The exercise of civil liberties is antithetical to the idea of an completely totalizing state. That's just the way it is.
I heard Joe Scarborough say this, and this is a flagrant example. He said "I was a Second Amendment supporter but this has made me change my mind." Well, then you never really were serious about it.
You know, the jurisprudence of the Second Amendment has only just begun. The results that Second Amendment supporters have received from the courts are probably as good as they could've ever hoped for, but we're already off on the wrong foot. The court treats this civil liberty differently than every other right. It's amazing. Even the Supreme Court majority has displayed this weird calculus about social cost that assumes from the beginning that gun ownership is a nuisance that can be safe every now and then and has to be tolerated. This isn't how we treat any other right in the Bill of Rights--as a nuisance first. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. The presumption that it's just a bad idea to own a gun, that we have to subject ourselves to all of these things and jump through all of these hoops to own a firearm--it doesn't work that way with speech, it doesn't work that way for the Fifth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment.
This project is, as much as anything else, an immanent critique of Second Amendment-ism. We're demonstrating the difference between the promise and the practice of the access to firearms.
Where do you feel this project fits into the "gun control" conversation? What you're doing fits more into the maker movement than the traditional firearms industry paradigm. So when people talk gun control to you, do you see this project fitting into the same conversation?
Right, it doesn't fit into the regulatory framework for gun manufacturing. But of course it fits into the larger discussion. A reporter will ask me "what are you going to do to restrict access to the files?" Well look, you don't have to get a background check to check out a book from the library. We're not going to do anything to restrict access to the files. That's the whole point. The control would have to happen at the point of access to the information, and I just don't have that attitude about the restraint and censorship of information that the prohibitionists do.
Here's how the discussion demonstrates the difference in the argument. So-called "progressives," their only response is "ban it. Ban it, ban it, ban it--ban it here, ban it there, ban the future." It just seems so conservative all of a sudden. How are these people committed to civil liberties? I'm saying: "Look, of course this can be abused. But it's preferable to the available alternative."
Gun control is a policy question with assumptions about how traditional guns are distributed. We're saying "Look, as a consequence of this technology the way we do things is altered. We've stepped outside of your program. So pass your law." I was reading a piece about us in The Australian today and they kept mentioning that "this is illegal here." They mentioned it like four times. You could hear the nervousness, because it's no longer possible to just withhold things from people.
But this project does raise many interesting legal issues. Do you feel like Defense Distributed is navigating these legal waters--waters that are almost completely uncharted--in a way that respects the spirit of the law?
Of course we've been careful not to break the law. But who is to say what the spirit of the law is. Perhaps I've entered a new cynical phase after going through a couple of years of law school, but the spirit of the law is up to anyone's interpretation. So that leaves a bad taste in my mouth when we talk about the spirit of the law. It's a huge discussion that I don't even want to get into.
If there's some kind of natural law, if you will, I think we're in the spirit of that. I guess to answer your question more pointedly: no. The point isn't to match the spirit of the law. If the law was to say today that you shouldn't have a firearm, we would still say "yes you should." If you want to, of course, the idea isn't "you must have a gun," but that you're not free unless you have the choice.
I think what bothers a lot of people about this isn't necessarily gun ownership, but the access. For example, at Popular Science we've written a lot about young people--high school students and younger--who are amazingly deft with this technology. They have access to it and they get it, in many cases better than adults. So what's to stop a kid from printing a firearm? I mean, what you're doing is essentially lowering the barrier to entry for firearm possession.
The goal is to completely lower the barrier. I do see the distinction that needs to be made sometimes. People say "well, you're providing access to firearms." Okay, yes, in that the information is there, and that the technology itself assembles the component in a way that is an advantage for the non-expert. You've always been able to make a gun in this country. This just allows you to do it without knowing how--software and a machine does it for you, as opposed to other machines like a CNC mill, which no kid is going to have in his bedroom. But he might have a 3-D printer. I'll give you the entire hypothetical situation, sure. Is it much more possible now? Of course.
But the question to me is phrased in such a way--that is the point, to evoke an emotional response. "Now a kid can do this." This is what so many people say--"well, the mentally ill, felons, and children will all have printable guns." Well, yeah, sorry, but this is one of the negative dimensions when you lower the barriers to entry for certain things. It just is. So you must have a culture that is prepared to accept and adapt to these kind of realities, instead of pretending with these regulationist ideas that we're still stuck in. We still just pretend that things are going to keep going the way they're going--that somehow we're going to have the resources and the state power to watch everyone's 3-D printer. That's absurd. So let's accommodate.
But owning a firearm is a huge, huge responsibility. So isn't lowering the barrier to entry to that responsibility detrimental to responsible firearm ownership?
I agree with you in an abstract sense. It should be this way, sure. But how can you exact some kind of legal regime that enforces that without infringing on the rights of countless people.
To bring in a legal analogy, the First Amendment is often compared to the Second. And you know, people should say nice things to each other. But how much state power are you willing to cede and use to pretend that you can control that at the expense of vast numbers of people.
In the broader context of 3-D printing, this project has the potential to jar legislators and regulators out of their bureaucratic malaise for a moment and actually pull our regulatory framework into the 21st century--I'm not talking about firearms regulations here, but about general acknowledgment at the government level of the serious disruptions this technology is going to cause in intellectual property law and in other areas. Would you consider that a success?
If the government were to regulate this, would we consider that a success?
Perhaps it's better asked this way: Is this about creating firearms with 3-D printers, or about pushing a new technology and the mindset associated with it as far as you can push it?
I don't even have the wherewithal, ultimately, to do anything about this [bureaucratic malaise]. So we're just ignoring it. We're developing this in a way that keeps us out of a correctional institution, but honestly it's about how many free spheres of action can you expand and create. We picked the low-hanging fruit at the time. We thought it was cool as well, it was 3-D printing. And we thought: how many edges of this technology can we press--let's take it to the limit, let's see what we can do with this. And it's amazing how many people are trying to stop us.
So this is less about the Second Amendment and more about stretching this technology into a place where it's bending both its physical limits but also the limits of where the technology can go. And the limits of people's comfort zones, perhaps.
It's the second thing. It's the futurism, it's expanding free spheres of action. And if it does that it will only do so marginally. Our contribution will be here and there marginal. Vast amounts of effort and money have gone into what? Three or four custom mods, a reinforced AR plastic receiver? These are marginal. But the idea is to expand the sphere of action, because we believe in this kind of decentralized planning as an alternative to central planning.
There's so much to say about this, and it seems every other week there are new terms about gun control and all of that. I'm just sort of an enthusiast of the Second Amendment, and so yeah--I'm willing to talk about it. But we see a global thing here. I tell people sometimes "we're not making a Second Amendment argument." The basic idea is to take a technology, play futurist, and surprise people. What can you do?
But what if what you can do is something unequivocally bad? I'm sure you've thought this through extensively. What if at some point in the future an unmitigated tragedy like the one that played out in Connecticut were to occur, and the weapon used to perpetrate it turned out to be either derivative of or even directly sourced from a Defense Distributed design, would you feel any kind of responsibility or accountability? Do you worry that, regardless of how you feel, that something might come back on you legally speaking?
Oh yeah. Not in regard to personal responsibility, but to the legal question. That's one of the biggest things we're thinking about right now. How we license some of this stuff is going to be really important--this is basically the second phase for us. Once you start approaching usability, this becomes really important. There could be liability claims. Other countries might start making claims against you, saying you are in contempt of their laws. There could be all kinds of overreaction.
And I'm not saying that some of these claims might not be valid. It's inevitable. There are so many factors involved in this technology--somebody is going to do a bad build. Someone is going to hurt themselves. And as technology advances, someone will be injured, someone will be killed. We should all admit: these are possibilities and are in fact inevitabilities. But what do we want to say? Are these reasons not to be serious about the right, or about the technology? To say that it's better that some things not happen? Or that some ideas not be had?
"Repeating firearms changed all that"
So the invention of the revolver in 1814 changed everything? How come no one noticed until now?
Let's put this where it belongs. it's the politician's fault these killings go on. Making or trying to make useless laws. Let's arm teachers and staff as they are first and last line of defense against the less than 1 percent crazies. No gun law is gonna stop the killing unless it is to train and arm any teacher that wants to protect his or her students. Cody has it right and our fore fathers knew an armed country is a free country, look at what happens in countries that are not armed they are invaded and citizens treated very badly.
I didn't have time to read all of the comments but wanted to add a note: I recently did some research on obtaining an FFL and came across other information.
It is perfectly legal today to make your own firearm, you do not put a serial number on it nor do you have to register the weapon. The only restriction is you cannot sell it (it is for your own personal use.) To make an AR-15 is very easy; to make the lower by buying the blank and then using a drill press to drill out the openings. The rest of the parts can be legally purchased on line or at a local gun shop or hardware store. Fully automatic weapons are already covered under the National Firearms Act of 1933. You can own them but must pay for background check, buy a special stamp which cost about 200.00, pay an FFL a fee to transfer for another 100.00 and wait about 6 months for the government to complete their background investigation. The catch is you have to pay everything up front including the weapon. I know you will not get back the 200.00 and not sure about the rest. This background check is much more in depth than the instant check made for all other small arms like ones you can buy at Wal-Mart or Bass Pro.
What a bunch of fluff. Lower receiver? Print me barrel ....a chamber...that can handle a round. . What is this dude saying? He gonna take this wittle compostite gun and go Bang Bang? What the blank happened to common sense?
Simple fact: the people killing people are already breaking the "law"; what makes anyone think that putting more laws up are going to solve the problem?
According to gunpolicy.org, there are approximately 270 million privately owned firearms in the US. According to the CDC the number of firearm homicides in 2011 was roughly 11,500. This works out to a rate of about 5 one thousandth of a percent (0.004359%) of the privately owned guns in the US are used to commit homicide (assuming only one gun was used per homicide and all were privately owned).
- If gun ownership causes these events, why aren't there more?
- If a ban on "assault" (whatever that means) weapons is a part of the answer, why did Columbine occur when the US had an "assault" weapons ban in place?
- the assault weapons ban expired under Bush. Homicide rates have now declined for the past 5 consecutive years; what statistical correlation does that imply?
The reality is that the gun ban arguments don't hold up to logic; it is all emotion.
This doesn't mean we put our heads in the sand or throw them in the air in submission. We should be asking the question of why these acts occur and addressing that issue not taking away the explicit constitutional rights of millions of Americans.
The first post brought up the classic example of yelling fire in a crowded theater as a limit of the rights of free speech. Yet, sometimes people do yell "fire" in crowded theaters. The reaction there is not to ban free speech for those that don't abuse the right, instead, the abuser is treated appropriately via the legal system. Similarly, banning guns for law abiding citizens is not the answer when some abuse that right.
Similarly to your post on the 2nd amendment; when the founding fathers came up with the 1st amendment, they didn't foresee the internet, cell phones or other mass communication technologies.
Does the fact that someone can come up with subversive, dangerous or stupid information and now can easily find an audience and disseminate this information render the 1st amendment worthy of greater limitations? I think not. Nor do I believe that the quicker someone can disseminate bullets makes the 2nd amendment a candidate for limitation.
The beauty of this article is that the project described so clearly ties the 1st and 2nd amendment together and people are tying themselves in knots to make arguments that withstand logic as to why one right should be protected and the other not.
The scary thing is that far too many people quickly devolve into repressive tactics on both (ban the guns, ban 3D printers, limit the ability to disseminate the information).
The word is mightier than the sword.
I agree that technology usually can't be stopped. It's sad, though the mentality of many 2nd amenderites like the one above commentor focusing on the word 'bear' in the amend, and its definition. Give me a break, most folks can accept the definition of bearing meaning to hold/own. I believe the 1st ten Amends were ratified in what, around 1795? I would like to have a time machine and be able to go back and ask the framers of the 2nd to define 'arms' for me. Then fast foward to today and ask scholars, joe shmoes like me, politicians, judiciary, etc. to define it in today's environment. I bet one would get varied answers to the query. I guess one can only hope that like Pandora who opened up the box and let out the demons of that story, the same 'angels of hope' will be protecting when this 'pandora's box' effects are felt.
This is completely crazy! I can't believe the issue has even made it this far. Not allowing the printing of handguns does not take away the freedom of people. Just as Spacehistorian said - Just because we have the freedom of speech doesn't mean we're allowed to yell fire in a movie theater. Rules do not have boundless limits. There are exceptions in almost every case. So, denying the printing of firearms does not take away the peoples freedom, it is merely one of those exceptions. People of any background are not allowed to walk the streets carelessly wearing handguns, but Americans don't see this as a threat to their freedom. This is just one example of many. The point I'm trying to make is that exceptions must be made and lines must be drawn and the Wiki Weapons project is just one of those exceptions! I'd also feel alot comfortable knowing that any kid of whatever age be it five or fifteen wouldn't be able to print a firearm on accident and up killing themselves shortly afterwards on accident.
It wouldn't let me type anymore, so this was meant to be the last part of that last sentence "on accident by not knowing how to use a gun."
this is proof that just because a new technology can exist doesn't mean it should. This man claims that if you changed your mind about the second amendment, you were not really serious about it in the first place? he cannot be serious. i have been a multiple gun owner and deep defender of the second amendment. i stood up for gun rights and the NRA through Columbine and every tragedy since, saying the same trite sayings like "it's not guns that kill people, its the people who pull the trigger." After Newton i waited for the NRA to respond with a mature responsible solution like they should have. instead they propose putting armed guards in the schools and say their very tired saying of "the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." As a veteran i can tell you the good guy with a gun doesn't always win. As a father i can't justify taking the chance of the good guy losing and another 20 babies dying at the hands of a madman. the only sane answer is that what is supposed to be the greatest country on earth must get rid of our handguns and assault rifles. now i read this guy has decided to make putting an assault rifle in the hands of another madman even easier. he is not only irresponsible but dangerous. this technology must be stopped. does he not have a child in his life he loves? please, for the love of whatever you hold dear sir, stop. stop before your own technology is used to kill someone you love. i have laid down my guns. i now campaign to rid this country of all its handguns and assault rifles. just use your rational thought. there are many uses for the 3-D printer technology but making more weapons of death should not be one of them.
Look, the only real point here has nothing to do with the Second Amendment or gun laws. In fact, it has nothing to do with guns, nor with 3D printers. We could be discussing any sort of dangerous weapon or technology.
Suppose I draw up plans for a powerful SuperDang weapon, which I just invented. You can build this thing in your basement for only $27, and it is guaranteed to kill as many people as necessary - and really fast.
All you need to make one of these great SuperDangs is a piece of copper pipe, a pint of gasoline, two dozen razor blades, a can of shoe polish and a few bottles of cleaning products you probably already have in your house.
Assume my invention works PERFECTLY, and is just as deadly as I claim! And that it is completely legal under today's laws.
I put the plans for the SuperDang up on my web page.
I urge people of all ages to build one, using slogans like,
SuperDangs don't kill people. People kill people.
When SuperDangs are outlawed, only outlaws will have SuperDangs.
The government wants to take away your right to own a SuperDang!
Would you leave your family helpless??
And now, here is the ONLY question that matters: would it be brave and moral for me to publish all this? Or would it in fact be stupid and evil?
"And now, here is the ONLY question that matters: would it be brave and moral for me to publish all this? Or would it in fact be stupid and evil?"
Google Timothy McVeigh. Whatever the answer to your moral question may be, it comes a little too late to mean anything.
"this is proof that just because a new technology can exist doesn't mean it should."
I feel the same way about the common cold. Also, I shouldn't have to pay for plane tickets to Tahiti. I should be able to just flap my arms and fly. Reality really ticks us off sometimes, doesn't it?
As for your rant about "assault weapons", I will bet you have the same problem as the people who wrote the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban -- that is, you can't even explain what you mean by the terms you used yourself.
"Give me a break, most folks can accept the definition of bearing meaning to hold/own."
Fortunately, the Constitution isn't about the barely educated impressions of some people. It is about the actual wording.
"I believe the 1st ten Amends were ratified in what, around 1795? I would like to have a time machine and be able to go back and ask the framers of the 2nd to define 'arms' for me. "
It was ratified in 1787. In 1792, they passed the Militia Acts, which defined what the militia is and what kinds of guns they were supposed to individually purchase and "bear" (meaning "carry"). You could go look up the facts, yourself. Just FYI, it included all military weapons up to and including cannons.
"If we have the tech to create guns with a 3D printer, we should also have the technology to hard-wire protocols into those printers that would prevent the printing of weaponry or certain key components that could be used to make a weapon"
So make it difficult enough and they would go back to the old method of simply bending sheet metal to make an AK-47 receiver. You can buy the parts for a few bucks and bend it up right in your kitchen. No need to buy an expensive 3D machine.
I guess a lot of people don't know that there are towns in Pakistan and other places where they make guns with no more tools than you would find in a typical US garage.
but don't let me stop the hysteria. Playing Chicken Little is fun.
(1) This technology will not produce a firearm cheaply, easily, or with reliability for some time.
(2) For a similar cost, a milling machine can be purchased currently that will produce lowers cheaply, easily, and with reliability. This is currently legal for personal use or with the correct FFL for buisness (and a buisness that is worth $$$ right now, so if you have a CNC machine, contact a gun dealer about contracting for lowers).
(3) Gun rights stop when they infringe upon others. Thus, I may not yell "fire" in a theater, but I may yell it all I want at my home, in the street, or driving around in my car. My gun rights stop when I point or fire my weapon at another person or their property. There are laws that prohibit such action (assault, murder, and vandalism). The possession of firearms "shall not be infringed" and therefore, much like free speach can only be controled in the context of its actions, the freedom are arms should likewise be free in ownership and controlled in use.
(4) Children, the mentally ill, and criminals currently have little trouble finding guns and the possession of guns by them is illegal whether printed, purchased, or stolen. Anyone clever enough to create an arm is clever enough to aquire one by other means.
(5) Guns are not even the most efficient means of mass murder or crime. Most crimes are committed without firearms. The most effective mass murders in the US were committed with fertilizer and box cutters (Oklahoma City and 9/11).
(6) The largest mass murders in human history were all committed by an armed government against a disarmed people. They also occured within the last 100 years (during the lifetime of still living leaders and citizens). Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.
(7) There are aproximately 500 million firearms in the world. 300 million of which are in the US. Disarming the American citizenship would be more difficult than disarming the rest of the world. This makes disarmament not only unfeasable, but meaningless, since if guns were the cause of voilence, the US would be the most violent country on Earth by a large margin (and we are not the most violent by a large margin, being one of the safest countries on Earth to live in).
(8) This also adds to American safety, since there is no means by which the US can be conquored by external (or internal) forces. With almost a 1:1 gun to person ratio, there would be "a gun behind every blade of grass."
(9) As technolgy develops, legally or illegally, firearm ownership will become easier for the global population as well. Creating cultures of prohibition rather than responsible use will only result in greater tragedies down the load.
@dratman - Your logic is...illogical at best. This has everything to do with gun laws. From a statistician's point of view, I can tell you that the statistics in cities with gun bans in place are dramatically higher violent crime rates. I'm not arguing the about why, just looking at the numbers to prove that it has everything to do with gun laws and the counter-productive nature of them.
As for your SuperDang weapon argument, the idiocy of it leaves me embarrassed at our educational system. dratman, did you know that baseball bats and kitchen knives cause more deaths than guns? If a crazy man brought a baseball bat into a school and started whacking people in the head, should we outlaw bats? Heck no, and you can't even argue a logical counter to that point.
If your SuperDang weapon was a hand-held bat-like stick, would that make it okay, whereas a gun-like weapon should be banned? Don't be ridiculous. Like or hate the slogan, PEOPLE ARE WHAT KILLS PEOPLE.
You're getting mad at something you try to prove with an illogical change of words, but your changing of the word 'gun' to 'SuperDang' only proves the fallacy of your argument. Your word-replacement shows that if you ban guns, you need to ban everything that can kill, whether it be a knife, a bat, a rock, a stick, a pipe, a car, a scalpel, or even bare hands.
If you really think your SuperDang argument proves a point, it does...but not the point you wanted to prove. Thanks for illustrating the illogical thinking behind gun bans.
Bottom Line: People are inherently bad, and will inevitably (with my own guarantee) make bad choices, and no matter what we do, we can't stop them. Why? Well how many people are there in the world? How many of them need to be stopped? How do we stop them? Point is, we can't do anything to negate the flow of society, so why should we try to stop its movement. That is futurism. We inject things in to society. We watch it grow, evolve. You don't stop it, you don't obstruct it, you push it. You drag it. You pull it out of whatever hell its stuck in and hope that you end up somewhere sane. That is how we progress. That is how people learn, and how, eventually, people will get better.
In the end, it seems it would be in our best interests to destroy the world in order to make it better. But, the question is, are we ready for it?
So, to the next level. The manufacture and selling of ammo should be controlled. Guns without ammo are just expensive paperweights. Besides that, if you would be caught with a gun, no matter how it was manufactured, law-inforcement would take it away from you and throw the book at you. Governments will never allow citizens to have the same, or better weapons, than what they have. After all, what would the point of Government be?