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Video Should We Print Guns? Cody R. Wilson Says "Yes" (Video) 444

The Wiki Weapon Project and its idea of making guns with 3D printers has already been mentioned on Slashdot. It has also been written up on and a lot of other geek and non-geek sites. Note that when some Wiki Weapon proponents talk about making "guns" with 3D printers, they may be talking only about lower receivers or other static parts, not barrels, firing pins or other parts that must be machined to close tolerances and are subjected to a lot of stress when the gun fires. But low-cost 3D printing and low-cost CNC machining technologies are both advancing at a rapid rate, so thinking about the intersection of firearm manufacturing and open source is both worthwhile and timely. There's been a strong debate about this topic on Eric S. Raymond's Armed and Dangerous blog that's worth reading. Also recommended: The Home and CNC Gunsmithing. Astute Slashdot readers will, no doubt, recommend many more. Meanwhile, this video is about licensing, distribution, and legal matters, not the actual manufacture of firearms. There's a transcript (we're finally doing transcripts of selected videos) below the video for those who prefer to read instead of watch.

Whether at home or at a local hacker space, lots of people use 3D printers to create either knickknacks, things like figurines or chess pieces or small but useful objects like replacement gears. I spoke this week with Cody R. Wilson. He's a University of Texas Law School student and found of the defense distributed Wiki weapon project. This is not your average use case for 3D printing.

Wilson's part of a small group working to put online as an STL file plans for a working firearm entirely of printable parts. Others have made 3D printable gun parts, even substantial ones, but not the whole thing. The Wiki weapon is partly a thought experiment and partly a philosophical statement about arms. But it's not just theoretical. They're soliciting ideas and designs and offer some down-loadable files already. Wilson wants to use the development and distribution methods of open source software, in other words the things that keep tools like PGP available to everyone, and apply them to a whole different type of weapon.

Cody R. Wilson: Defense distributors Wiki Weapon project is essentially about taking a CAD file or an STL file, downloadable, for a firearm.

Ensuring the possibility that that file would be completely distributed across the internet as much as possible. And at least taking a page out of open source, making sure that it's available to as many people that want to have it as possible. And then that lends to different questions and outcomes regarding gun control, civil society. I mean, we don't intend for there to be conclusions of a certain order or a certain kind because of this, but the project is about making sure this file's out there.

The weapon we're designing is not, it's not fair to really draw an analogy between any other kind of weapon. I think the possibility that this project represents is that, well weapons are now it's kind of a new stage. What is a weapon? Question you, like what is a handgun now? I mean, people keep saying, "I see pundits and these pieces who were brought in for kind of rhetorical balance, well, this might be difficult and the gun might fail." Well of course it might fail. I mean, this is the new possibilities that these represent. Failing is now a feature, not a bug, you know what I'm saying?

Like, what are all the bizarre designs that guns, firearms, and not just those, not to narrow that down but material objects themselves what will they take on when they are now crowd sourced and distributed across the internet? This is just that possibility extruded like the plastic we're using through the platonic form of the gun. I constantly chide myself for how small I was thinking when we began this. I mean I thought we would do it in house, develop it, but as soon as we announced it there was just an outpouring of support. All over the world, Russian people -- I mean, I don't know why I went to Russia first -- but I mean just anybody, anywhere, felt free to e-mail me. You know I use my personal e-mail, my school e- mail. Suggestions, designs.

In fact that's why we came up with the contest itself. We weren't being open sourced and true to the OSI model enough. So we wanted to expand, expand, expand. On every chain of development people are giving legal counsel, people are giving opinions on every chain of the project. It's just like the world, I don't want to say the world wants it to happen. Who do we..? No, I can't say that, but there's a market for it. There's a market for the idea and people are excited about it.

This is the most exciting part of the project so far for me because we're deciding, okay, well how do we accept designs, how do we distribute the designs themselves? If the project's going to stand or fall it will be because we figured out, well what's the right way of licensing this, and now it gets to free software. Or, and that's an important philosophical question. Are these files going to be software? Do we treat them like software? Is that the propaganda essentially or are they art or are they something else? And that determines, that at least, that's how we answer the question, what kind of licensing do we use?

So I was thinking from the very beginning, not thinking deep enough, oh GPL license or just a general OSI. No, I think we need to do something like a BSD. We need to do something like maybe a creative commons license, and thankfully you know paragons like icons of the open source movement have reached out to us just in time to help us answer these questions. Because look man, I just got into law school. I don't know anything about IP, you know what I'm saying? I'm figuring it out as I go.

That's another beautiful part of this project. It's just like, you're learning so much about the world, so much about, it's the most instructive thing I've ever done, it's the most brilliant period of creation I've ever had the privilege of being able to experience. People begin with fresh assumptions about what is a gun? Kind of like we've talked about already. Well it needs to be able to maintain rigidity and structural form for the bolt thrust and the chamber pressure. Okay, and they have this idea of how to feed a gun. No, we're thinking like break it down to its most irreducible components, right? Something extremely crude like a canister with a hole in it, you know what I'm saying, and a locking block. And the pin is essentially a bang stick model. I mean it can be that basic. It's still a weapon, it's still a gun, it still fires a .38, a .22. As long as the thing doesn't explode, and sometimes we're beginning to think even if the thing does explode in certain ways, you're not hurt — it's lethal, it's still a gun. The techniques required, that's almost a trap, you know what I mean? And it's almost a benefit that we're beginning from a total amateur background.

I mean we've got engineers, electrical engineers, you know. But students, only students that began with the project. Now we have professional support coming in, but I'm very glad that people aren't saying, "Well, this is how you do it" and "this is how it should be done". No it's like the John Browning American idea. Like No, we're going to tinker around with it, we're going to blow up some guns until something works. And is that terrible? Maybe it is, but it's going to be out there, it just is, it just is.

What does that have to do with law? Man, I don't have a ready answer for that, it's just this is where my mind is, my mind is well what is just, what is? Let's toy with enlightenment ideas. Why not? Let's, like, literally materialize freedom. Let's play around with that. Like, isn't it strange that we can live in a world where we can literally, metaphorically materialize the ideas and the concepts we're playing around with? That's dangerous.

But what this project's really about, fuck your laws, you know what I'm saying? It's stepping up, it's being able to go, you know what, I don't like this legal regime I neatly step outside of it. Now what, you know?

The world is suddenly shaken from its sleep walking, you know, oh my god, I don't want this to happen. And, so what? And the terms aren't finished but I think we're going to use something like a very short form and like a zlib license. I think it's a zlib license. I was looking last night and like derivatives of BSD licensing. I'm getting kind of off topic here. But I'm thinking like we maintain attribution to the original authors, right? So it's a similar copyleft or copyright in that matter. But then only short terms like, warranties of no guaranteed warranty of useful and you know what I'm saying, like, Okay it could blow up. And then don't misrepresent the modification or who made the modification of the original authorship. And I think that's it.

So people will submit essentially intellectual property but they will disclaim all rights other than their authorship of that right to attribution. And it will be, we're not even going to include a no commercial use, at least you know as of today. I don't think we're even going to flip the no commercial use switch as ESR said. Because I don't want to, people, okay when I talk with my law friends, I know I'm just going everywhere now. But when I talk with my law friends they go, well we need to think about, first, the first priority in licensing is how do we restrict liability? It's not about protecting us or protecting authors, it's about how to best facilitate the distribution, the advancement in modification of this technology, or the sufferance, alright, whatever you want to style it as. It's about how not to chill it. How to really ensure that, because we can put the file out. But if the shark and the courts and everyone decides, the leviathan itself decides, oh we've got a neat trick for this, shut down. Okay, no then we failed.

Perhaps this is how law comes into it. Knowing the right way to licensing it from the beginning, perhaps best facilitates its immediate distribution. And it's irrevocable distribution. I was talking to someone about PGP. In the beginning, I'm not sure if you're aware. PGP was considered by the government a munition and I think there were statutory authority that's since been kind of tweaked a little bit that was like, well you, there's some arms exports stuff that governs this and you can't share this with people. I think the analogy is directly there. What they're going to do I think if they do things, and this is why we have to move quickly but, they're going to say, well you're exporting munitions, you're exporting munitions technology. Either that's illegal on an IP front or just straight up you're sharing weapons with the world and you can't do that. Okay, fine, let's do it anyway. Weird things have been happening. I hate to be paranoid about, you know what I'm saying, but I mean, no I don't think the right people know to be angry. And perhaps the right people say they know better then us and they don't think it can happen. Fine, but we'll surprise them anyway.

There will be software in that when you load this into your — okay, a good analogy is C&C diagrams. You go to C&C guns right now, C& right now get your C&C file, your SCL, and print that right, well not print it but mill it, you know what I mean, immediately. It's almost the same thing, it's just in plastic, so. And that's much more accessible to people now. I'm not going to go buy C&C mill, but I might have one day a $500 Rep-Rap. There's really the only difference because you can get the file, click print, you know run it through your software and then you've got a gun.

We've looked at flare gun concepts, we've looked at match sticks, I mean everything. Anything and everything is on the table right now that's almost, I almost lament it. Because it's at the height, it's at it's most creative stage of possibilities right now because we're still thinking. I mean our product people aren't really working with us until next week, you know what I'm saying? So then we'll have to start getting down to brass tacks and making decisions and sacrifices and creative sacrifices. It's not a matter of years, it's not a matter of many months. I think it's, if it's going to happen and if we're going to do it, the money's there, the money's coming in, the resources are there, nice, nice printers, nice resources, engineering talent. If it is at all possible in any form it's going to happen very soon. I don't think weapons are dangerous is a compelling argument. I think some weapons are dangerous is a compelling argument, you know.

I mean, should, and this is a good one. Should everyone be able to have their own nuclear device? I mean, that's not something I'm even going to approach. It's not something I want to talk about. But I think armed men are free men. You know, I'm a proponent of at least these ideas. And I wanted to be conscious about not just giving people an explicit, you know, manifesto of just like literally down line by line, this is why and this is why and this is why. And something that people can pick apart our lives and be like, well these are lazy armchair philosophers. We just gave the people a very neat list of quotations and things they can kind of put together for themselves.

Milton's Areopagitica is essentially the spiritual analog that I'm holding out for people. Which is more to do not about like why guns are good. It's more about why like speech and information is good. Why like you just must reckon with, you must be free to reckon with whatever ideas that you can. It isn't enough that a society can just withhold things. That doesn't befit you as a moral agent. That doesn't allow you to exist or to, that doesn't allow you to fully exercise your capacity as a human being, as a moral agent. That's what I want this to be more about. Not to get stuck in debates about, well we can have semi-automatic rifles but let's not have automatic rifles. Like Obama said, those belong on the battlefield. No, no, no, the battlefield is the mind, you know what I'm saying? Like the battlefield is culture. Let's make people, let's make individuals reckon with these ideas themselves.

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Should We Print Guns? Cody R. Wilson Says "Yes" (Video)

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Life also gets interesting when we can print keys. To your house, your car, your safe deposit box....

    • by Tyndmyr ( 811713 )
      Oh, this is already a thing. Standard residential grade lock quality keys have already been printed, and fully working printable padlocks are already a thing. However, making purely mechanical keys is already pretty common tech.
    • Life also gets interesting when we can print keys. To your house, your car, your safe deposit box....

      It isn't polite to mention it, and people have set up a degree of obfuscation by using blind codes with proprietary conversion books or software; but you can reproduce (basic) keys with just the bitting codes and an appropriate blank. If you want EZ-while-U-wait, you'll need a key cutting machine; but a set of files and some calipers will work, if you don't mind building some character in the process.

      If you have physical access to the original(rather than just a photo or set of bitting codes) various seriou

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:09PM (#41235727)

    Then only outlaws will have printed guns.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:10PM (#41235745)
    Which isn't to say you shouldn't be able to, but that you shouldn't do it because it will be misused and serves no practical purpose. Also, why is it we ask "how can we shoot things or blow things up with this" every time a new technology comes to the market?
    • by Tyndmyr ( 811713 )
      I'm not sure that it actually will be misused. Printing a gun requires notable access to a 3d printer, a certain degree of cost, patience, and a certain degree of skill with the system. Anyone with that sort of patience certainly isn't committing an impulse crime, and if he's got that skillset, he's probably not likely to be a career violent criminal. I suspect this whole thing is more of media fodder than anything else.
      • Exactly this, it's the same issue with the stupid 'assault weapon ban' the democratic party insists on keeping on it's ticket. They are used in a miniscule amount of gun related incidents (low single digit percent) and the DOJ studies all confirmed that the ban did nothing. However it sounds scary and makes a great news sound byte so it still persists just like the printing guns angle. The people who can afford to print and manufacture there own guns share a very small part of the venn diagram with people w
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Which isn't to say you shouldn't be able to, but that you shouldn't do it because it will be misused and serves no practical purpose. Also, why is it we ask "how can we shoot things or blow things up with this" every time a new technology comes to the market?

      I think ti's mostly a US culture thing. American culture towards guns tends to be fairly unique throughout the world - other countries may be fairly casual about them (e.g., Canada) as well, but guns don't usually bring up the huge emotions as they woul

  • There's a transcript (we're finally doing transcripts of selected videos) below the video for those who prefer to read instead of watch.

    What is this reading you're talking about?

  • At last. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MRe_nl ( 306212 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:13PM (#41235803)


  • I predict that there will be laws (actually, already are) for this, but that as the industry becomes more mature there are going to be soft-safeguards in the commercial printers which actively discourage the fabrication of the most critical gun-like parts (ex: printers will not print cylindroidal parts with inner diameter ranges that match common ammunition).

    • Only if they want to significantly reduce the utility of the printers. Tube shapes are used for more than bullets.
    • by Tyndmyr ( 811713 )
      That sounds ridiculously limiting. Hollow components are a pretty common 3d printer thing. In addition to the utility aspect of this, it's really common to make hollow innards simply to reduce plastic use.
    • While they are doing initial design on a higher grade printer, they are actually targeting a printer model that is 100% capable of duplicating itself (I can't recall the name and am too lazy to look it up, go read the weaponwiki site for full details.) Thus commercial safeguards will fail because the controls can't work. When I can print a printer for each of my friends and they in turn can print one for each of their friends, and so on. And then we can print the firearm model of our choice. It's a lim
      • by Tyndmyr ( 811713 )
        No such printer exists yet, and there are notable obstacles to such a thing ever existing. Reprap, etc can print a substantial fraction of their pieces, which is great for availability and cost, but at least a trip to a well stocked hardware store will be in order. And frankly, you can just build a gun with a trip to a well stocked hardware store.
        • Okay you are more familiar with the actual printer being targeted than I. And you are most likely correct in that I overstated it's self replication ability, but if so, those hardware store parts are not easily identifiable as parts of or even for said printer. And thus the point and goal of the WikiWeapons group still stands as does the legality of what they are doing.

          You buy the printer and print many of the components plus the plans and share them with me so I can get into 3D printing. I take the pl
          • by Tyndmyr ( 811713 )
            The issue is, it's a lot easier to do that directly with the gun than with the printer. Making a reprap requires some fairly accurate stepper motors, access to a RL friend with one to print out bits for you, and a pretty decent, and fairly specific shopping list from the hardware store. A simple firearm basically requires some pipe and a nail. I'm fairly technically grounded, but I opted to get a pre-made 3d printer myself for the same reason that I didn't make my own's bloody time consuming to do t
      • Won't matter. The controls are not in the hardware you print, but in the firmware that makes the printer work. If you can change the firmware, there's no need to make a new printer - just re-write the firmware in the old one.

        The prohibition isn't in making the parts, the prohibition is in making it easy to make the parts with low cost hardware.

      • Printing a screw (ball or other) that is as accurate as the screws in the current printer will be a challenge. / Understatement

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:13PM (#41235813)

    ...regulating this behavior. The rules of what you can create and can't are pleasantly explicit in the US. There may be a few new edge cases, but on the whole this won't be anything new to the ATF. Simply, with modern tools, zip guns are no longer hard to make.

    Where these people will run into trouble is the attitude ~5:30 minutes into the video, the statement "Fuck your laws." Does not show the kind of safe-and-sane experimenter spirit to which the courts are often forgiving. It's more of a "make an example of me" invitation.

    I hope everyone inspired to experiment with these toys takes the opposite approach. Last I read about them, the jail sentences that come with full-auto weapons manufacture were 10 years per gun.

    The ATF has no problem with good amateur gunsmithing, nor experimenting with new technologies to make better guns. Kel-Tec is a great example. My first Kel-Tec (the Grendel) was painful to shoot, but cheap and reliable, and now they are a thriving business. []

    • by Tyndmyr ( 811713 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:38PM (#41236153)
      Agreed. This whole thing is really more political statement than it is practical development. If you look over defense distributed's site, the political aspects are pretty well filled out(including a "manifesto"), but technical document appear to be wildly lacking. Their wiki had three pages. A main page, a blank page with a title, and something popped in by a spambot when I checked it out about a week ago. It's almost as if they saw the media bits about printing guns, and decided to tag along with this for political gain, but have no idea what is actually involved.
    • Exactly - it looks like the US already has laws about the manufacture of illegal weapons and weapon components. Whether you make it with a 3D printer or high-tech CNC mill, or if you make it with a Dremel and hand files, it's still an illegal part.

      There are plenty of things in the world that are technically easy, but still illegal. It's incredibly easy for me to jump in my van and go for a blast up the high street at 90mph, but it's still illegal to do so.

    • All these "OMG print gunz!" types seem to think that it is some amazing tech where you'll be able to stamp out a whole gun in your house. Ummm, no. What has been printed is a lower receiver of an AR-15. Now while that is legally the "gun" part, it is also by far the simplest part, and also one of the few that doesn't take a lot of stress and thus can be plastic. This is not printing a fully functional weapon, barrel, chamber, firing pin, and all.

      For a functional firearm, you are going to need a metal barrel

  • eventually (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:16PM (#41235855)

    Eventually you'll be able to print the whole thing, and synthesize the charge/primer too. The same equipment will be able to make food and medicine. Who do you want controlling that?

    • people can already make firearms. it can be done legally. as for charge, you can legally buy many, many different powders and primers and cases and bullets, and legally hand load your own ammo. this doesn't raise any new questions that didn't exist for decades already.

    • I have mental images of ordering asparin out of my replicator and getting LSD because some script kiddy managed to get a virus onto it. Hilarity will ensue no doubt.

    • Eventually you'll be able to print the whole thing, and synthesize the charge/primer too. The same equipment will be able to make food and medicine. Who do you want controlling that?

      Synthesizing primers (e.g. fulminates and azides) is best left to the competent. I have no problem with letting the incompetent try, provided they're sufficiently far away.

  • Excuse me while I print out a 3D hand and a 3D head so I can facepalm without injury to myself.
  • I have heard that at least some copiers had built in block for reproduction of banknotes. If this is true, it is probably result of some regulation.

    I wonder if something similar will be done for the 3D printers.

  • Digital Sand Casting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djl4570 ( 801529 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:36PM (#41236119) Journal
    3D printing technology is moving into realms that many of us would have overlooked. [] documents using a "sand printer" to make very precise molds for sand casting. Precision castings reduce the amount of finish work required on the casting. Many of the parts used in a gun could be cast using such a technique, finished, tempered where necessary. (Ruger casts a lot of frames, At one time Springfield used cast bolts in the M1A until enough of them broke that they started forging bolts.) MIM is already widely used in the firearms industry for parts like hammers, triggers and grip safeties. The only parts I can think of that couldn't be made using 3D printing or the above technology are springs which can be bought in bulk, and the barrel, which has to be ordinance grade steel and rifled unless you're shooting a smoothbore with shot or a fin stabilized projectile.
  • Outlaw what people _do_ with guns, which has plenty of room for some re-work. Simply making one, whether printing it, or otherwise, should be perfectly legal. Otherwise, you may as well outlaw making knives, screwdrivers, hammers, rope and anything else which could be used to do something illegal.

  • The guy mentions "armed men are free men"... it's a good sound bite, but it really doesn't mean anything. You can have a kitchen knife, and you will be considered armed... it's is not going to help defend you against someone with a gun.

    Even the best fully automatic firearm you can print is nothing but a kitchen knife compared to the destructive power a modern military has at its disposal. You don't have tanks, planes, bombs, rockets, missiles, artillery, drones, gunships, submarines, helicopters, radars

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.