Jail the Liberator!


3D printing is once again hitting the headlines with the latest creation of a company called Defense Distributed: an almost fully printable plastic gun, humbly named the Liberator.

It was inspired by the small gun manufactured in the US during WWII to be dropped in occupied France. The weapon was not at the edge of technology but some recalls it as “a good weapon to get another one.” The blueprint of the gun, that still requires a metal firing pin, was made available to anyone on defcad.org. “Print It Yourself” nerds and Second Amendment fans were quick to react: Forbes magazine notes that in the first two days only, the file was downloaded 100,000 times!

The top three countries in terms of downloads are the US, Spain and Brazil. The gun can shoot several rounds before the barrel breaks up. However it does not appear problematic since it is easily replaceable by another printed barrel…

For some the project “is a tangible representation of the freedom to bear arms” (Guns.com), while for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls it is simply a violation of the ITAR regime. The administration asked Defense Distributed to remove the blueprint from its internet servers arguing the gun is under the regime of the US Munitions List (USML).

Cody Wilson, the brain behind Defense Distributed, accepted the removal while arguing its gun could be exempted from ITAR strict regulation. As related by Forbes Magazine, the Liberator could benefit from the regime of “non-profit public domain release of technical file designed to create a safe harbor for research and other public interest activities.” Moreover, the organization has a deferral license to manufacture firearms. Knowing that its activities would probably face opposition, it has developed an “over-compliance” policy. In order to not breach the Undetectable firearms act of 1998, it has introduced a metal piece inside the gun.

As related in a previous issue of The Bulletin, the company has already released a 3D printed large capacity magazine. But there is no such thing as an actual and complete removal from the internet (not only from Google first results pages). So if you are interested, the blueprint is still available on The Pirate Bay and other file exchange websites, even though the charismatic Kim Dotcom, owner of Mega, a files-share website, voluntarily removed the files from its servers. In addition to the State Department reaction, serious concerns are mounting among the politicians. Steve Israel, New York State Senator, who fiercely opposes Defense Distributed activities, and called for a ban on printed weapons. The changes implied by the 3D printers in terms of regulations are interesting. Hod Lipson, from Cornell University, told Wired journalists that “perhaps the only way – if we choose to try and control this – is to control the gunpowder – the explosive – and not the actual device.”

Another interesting reflection is brought by Cory Doctoraw, from The Guardian. He notes that “Computer make it possible for semi skilled people to do job that used to require highly skilled people. A computer program, a computer readable model-file and computer –based 3d printer can (in theory) encapsulate the expertise of a skilled machinist and deploy it on demand where a 3D printer is to be found.”

You can be either in favour or fiercely opposed to it, one should admit that it remains quite costly and complicated to get a weapon that way. Acquiring a weapon on the black market remains cheaper and probably quicker. In countries such as the US where weapons are massively spread among the population, it does not appear to represent a dramatic turn. However, for countries where gun control is stricter, it could be a turning point for so called “self empowerment….”

Republished with permission of ADIT – The Bulletin.