3D printing hasn’t lived up to the hype about a decade after the first consumer-ready printers hit the market. The number of people using 3D printers is still small, but some of them are using the devices to make guns. Last year, the Trump administration moved to settle with a gun printing non-profit and make those weapons legal. However, a federal court has blocked that deal, calling it “unlawful.”
The legal drama stretches back to 2012 when Defense Distributed began designing and posting 3D printing files for gun parts. The following year, it released files for “The Liberator,” a single-shot plastic gun that anyone could make with a sufficiently capable 3D printer. The files were downloaded more than 100,000 times within a day. The government came down on Defense Distributed citing the Arms Export Control Act and forced the removal of the files, but founder Cody Wilson pledged to fight on.
Although Wilson has since left the company after attempting to solicit sex from a teenager, Defense Distributed has continued its fight against the government. In 2018, the Trump administration decided to settle the case, offering to rewrite federal law to make devices like The Liberator (and semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15) exempt from export laws. Following the deal, 19 states filed suit against the government and secured a halt to any changes in the law.
The new Washington state ruling pulls no punches discussing the 2018 deal. Judge Robert Lasnik calls the settlement “arbitrary and capricious,” pointing out that the government has an obligation to uphold the law. It cannot simply announce a contrary position without justification, and then change federal law without consulting Congress.
While Defense Distributed was the sole focus of the lawsuit, it wasted no time issuing a statement. Spokesperson Chad Flores decried the judgment, citing the company’s rights to free speech and calling the lawsuit an “indirect censorship effort.” The Justice Department, which was on the losing side of the case, said it is currently examining the decision. Defense Distributed seems determined to continue pushing the case, so we likely have not heard the last of 3D-printed guns.
Regardless of what happens with the case, the cat is out of the bag. It’s not hard to get your hands on the files to 3D print guns, and the technology will only get more advanced over time.
- US State Department begins the nearly impossible task of banning 3D printed guns online
- The world’s first 3D printed metal gun is a beautiful .45 caliber M1911 pistol
- The Liberator: The first downloadable 3D-printed gun gets test fired