The age of 3D-printed guns in America is here

This one is fake, but the real ones are coming.
This one is fake, but the real ones are coming.
Image: Transportation Security Administration via AP
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A last-ditch effort to block a US organization from making instructions to 3D-print a gun available to download has failed. The template will be posted online on Wednesday (Aug. 1).

From then, anyone with access to a 3D printer will be able to create their own firearm out of the same kind of material that’s used for Lego blocks. The guns are untraceable, and require no background check to make or own.

“The age of the downloadable gun formally begins,” states the website of Defense Distributed, the non-profit defense firm that has fought for years to make this “age” possible.

In April, Defense Distributed reached a settlement with the US State Department in a federal lawsuit that allowed publishing the plans on printing a gun to proceed, which took effect in June. On July 26, gun-control advocates asked a federal court in Texas to block the decision, but the judge decided not to intervene. Lawmakers in Washington also tried in the past week to mobilize against the development, but it’s likely all too late (paywall).

The first of this kind of gun—designed by the founder of Defense Distributed Cody Wilson, a self-described crypto-anarchist—was “The Liberator,” a single shot pistol, which had a metal part that made it compliant with a US gun-detection law. When the plans were first released in 2013, Wilson claimed they were downloaded more than 100,000 times in the first couple of days. Shortly thereafter, the government said the enterprise was illegal.

Defense Distributed sued the federal government in 2015 after it was blocked from publishing the 3D-printing plans online. With the April 2018 settlement, the government reversed its position. David Chipman, former agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and current adviser to Giffords, a gun control organization run by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords (who was infamously shot in the head), blames the about-face on the change in presidential administrations.

The decision means that people who can’t pass a standard background check “like terrorists, convicted felons, and domestic abusers” will be able to print out a gun without a serial number, Chipman wrote in a blog post. “This could have severe repercussions a decade from now if we allow weapons of this kind to multiply.”