'Blood on their hands': Critics decry U.S. decision to allow 3D-printed gun blueprints online

Blueprints outlining how to 3D print a gun will be available online starting next month. But critics argue the move opens up a dangerous frontier in America.

'The right to live trumps the right to print a gun at home,' gun control advocate says

'The Liberator' pistol is the first firearm that can be made entirely with plastic components using a 3D printer and computer-aided design files downloaded from the internet. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)
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The creator of the first 3D-printed gun says he would regret it "immensely" if his blueprints were used to create a weapon involved in a mass shooting, but he maintains that the plans should be freely available.

Cody Wilson, the founder and director of Austin-based Defense Distributed, recently won a four-year battle against the U.S. State Department to make his blueprints available online. The self-described free speech fundamentalist is also the founder of a crowdfunding website that gives people who have been banned online for hate speech, like White Nationalist Richard Spencer, a platform.

Inspired by WikiLeaks, Wilson learned everything he could about guns, gun manufacturing and 3D printing and in 2013, he created "The Liberator" — the first 3D printed gun — and uploaded its blueprints online. Files for the Liberator gun were quickly downloaded more than 100,000 times.

"There was already a large American gun culture here. So from my point of view, it was equal parts outrage and equal parts kind of interest and even delight," Wilson told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue about the response at the time.

In this 2012 photo, Cody Wilson points to his laptop screen displaying an image of a prototype plastic gun in Austin, Texas. (Statesman.com/Associated Press)

The U.S. government ordered Wilson to remove the files, arguing that they violated the terms of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation, which controls what defence and military materials are exported.

Wilson and his legal team argued the First Amendment and Second Amendment — free speech and the right to bear arms — were violated. He won on the free speech claim.

"I was as shocked as anyone else," Wilson said, reflecting on his win. "At some point it seemed the government just walked away from their position, which is not to be expected after this many years in."

As of Aug. 1, his plans detailing how to make a 3D gun, as well as blueprints made by other people, will be again posted on his site.

In Canada, however, it is illegal to manufacture or possess a firearm without appropriate licences and applicable registrations, the RCMP previously told CBC News. In addition, a firearms business licence is needed to manufacture a gun.

Wilson said he considers it important for people to know how to make a gun or have access to such drawings.

"That may not mean that you can immediately reproduce in your home. But it's a step toward doing something like that."

'Right to live' versus 3D-printed guns

Gun control advocates say the decision to allow 3D printing of guns opens up a dangerous frontier in America, but the decision did not shock them.

"I'm not surprised but you know, they really just walked away from a good case that they had," said Maggie Thompson, who heads Generation Progress.

She said access to such files needs oversight and control, however difficult it is to manage.

"I don't think that it being difficult means that it's not something that we should do," she said. "This is something that the government can and should do."

Seized plastic handguns, which were created using 3D printing technology, are displayed at Kanagawa police station in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, May 8, 2014. Yoshimoto Imura became the first man to be arrested in Japan for illegal possession of two guns he created himself using 3D printing technology. (Kyodo/Reuters)

Thompson said the Trump administration "caved" on gun control measures.

"Cody, just like the NRA, politicians, the United States, really are going to have blood on their hands if policies like this allow even more fettered access to firearms in the U.S.," Thompson said.

"The right to live trumps the right to print a gun at home."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's Richard Raycraft, Jessica Linzey and Kristian Jebsen.

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