The US government says this 3D gunmaker might just be an arms dealer

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When Defense Distributed put its blueprints for a 3D-printable plastic gun on the internet (see above), the Texas non-profit put an internet freedom spin on the gun control debate.

It also led the US government to suspect the organization of being an arms dealer.

The State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Compliance has asked founder Cody Wilson to take down the blueprints for its “Liberator,” among other weapons, while officials there determine if his organization needs a license to freely dole out the technical documents to anyone, anywhere.

The State Department is empowered to control the export of defense technologies to protect national security and pursue US foreign policy. The same office, until recently, also prohibited the export of US drones to non-NATO countries. Such rules are part of a suite of policies designed to keep munitions, especially the newest technologies, out of the hands of people considered dangerous to the US (e.g, Afghan Islamists, 1994 to present) and in the hands of people helping the US (e.g., Afghan Islamists, 1979 to 1989).

The Liberator wasn’t the only Defense Distributed weapon on the State Department’s list:

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That’s right, high explosives and a pistol silencer are among the various munitions that Defense Distributed has blueprinted, not to mention grenades. While the pistol could be seen as a weapon of self-defense, some of the items on that list are bound to infuriate gun control advocates.

The company has complied with the government’s request, although Wilson noted that the files are widely available on file-sharing services. That makes the gesture fairly meaningless, especially since improvements in 3-D printing and free digital communication technologies are bound to keep coming. The site also hosts plans for 30-round magazines for AR-15s, the semi-automatic rifle used in the Sandy Hook school shooting. That kind of in-depth magazine would have been banned by the failed gun control bill; any future effort to regulate magazines will need to somehow account for the internet, as well as gun shops and shows.

It’s unclear whether the export controls will lead to a permanent ban on publishing the blueprints. In the meantime, Defense Distributed may face stiff competition for homemade munitions technology. When it comes to bootleg weapons, Syrian rebels probably have the upper hand: