Printing out a handgun from your home computer may sound like a far-fetched dystopian science fiction plot, but Defense Distributed, a group run by 24-year-old University of Texas law student Cody Wilson is trying to make it a reality.
Forbes reports that Defense Distributed has launched a new fundraising campaign called the Wiki Weapon Project. They are looking to raise $20,000 to take advantage of the bourgeoning market for 3D printer technology, enabling anyone with adequate resources to easily replicate a fully operational handgun at home while sitting around in their pajamas and waiting for total societal collapse. All one would need for this DIY artillery venture is an open-source 3D printer called RepRap, priced under $1000, and access to the project’s CAD templates. The printer will layer threads of plastic with astonishing precision into the shape of a gun capable of firing ordinary .22 caliber bullets.
Wilson explains the project in detail in a video created for the fundraising campaign:
Defense Distributed hopes to use the money to attain a larger printer and to hold a contest for potential gun designs that can later be fitted to the open-source RepRap format. “We want to show this principle: That a handgun is printable,” Wilson told Forbes. Given the recent incident of gun violence in Aurora, Colorado and the Sikh shooting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wilson’s “principle” comes at a time when the debate over gun regulation has become increasingly polarized.
The “manifesto” section of the Defense Distributed website is a brisk list of quotes from the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. A strange marriage of cyberpunk and constitutionalist libertarianism, the Wiki Weapon project is perhaps not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But it is testing the limits of the intersection between technology and constitutional law.
The question seems to come down to whether democratizing the availability of arms is the same as having a right to bear them. Although Wilson maintains that the project is legal as long as the guns aren’t manufactured for commercial purposes, there are also ethical and logistical uncertainties about the possibility of anyone having instant access to a lethal weapon.
While there are already a number of loopholes through which to obtain a firearm without a background check, the prospect of placing gun ownership on the same level as downloading music seems a bit unsettling. Should there be reasonable limits to applying the Second Amendment to technological innovation, or should we be able to torrent all the heavy artillery we want?