Why Cody Wilson Released His 3D-Printed Gun Plans to the Public
It’s been almost a year since the first successful test of The Liberator—a pistol made almost entirely from parts created on a 3D printer. The unnerving concept of homemade firearms has been drifting through headlines ever since.
(Via WikiWep DevBlog)
But scary headlines aside, it’s worth asking: What does it really mean? Should you be frightened of a possible future (or even present!) in which anybody can simply self-manufacture a .380 caliber gun made mostly out of plastic?
The answers open a window on what has turned out to be a fascinating collision of mainstream technology and outsider ideology. (In fact, readers in New York City may be interested to know that I’ll be in conversation with Liberator creator Cody Wilson at MoMA on Thursday night, in connection with the museum’s Design and Violence online exhibition. A bit more on that below.)
First, let’s take a step back and put the Liberator in perspective. 3D printing is usually positioned as a benign technology. Devices like those offered by MakerBot promise a kind of sequel to the desktop-publishing revolution, but this time with physical objects.
What will you print?
For a few thousand dollars, the idea goes, you can design your own toy or iPhone case, whip up the parameters for a specific oddball part, or dip into existing designs for utensils and doodads on an open-source Thingiverse, and “print” (or tweak) what you wish: The machine whips things up through a process of extruding plastic layer by layer. In the long run, enthusiasts argue, such printers will get better, more versatile, and cheaper, and we’ll end up with a desktop factory in every home.
Whether you buy that or not, you have to admit it sounds super cool.
But the thing is, lots of stuff comes from factories, including guns. This brings us to Wilson, who founded Defense Distributed in the summer of 2012 with the explicit idea of applying the idea of open-source manufacturing to weaponry. Since then he’s tapped into all sorts of resources associated with the “crowd”-empowering tech notion—and has been repeatedly spurned, thwarted, and rejected.
The Liberator’s pieces.
There was an Indiegogo campaign to fund the gun-design project; it was kicked off the platform. Wilson later announced that his group managed to raise $20,000 anyway and directed some of that to leasing a high-end Stratasys 3D printer. The firm promptly scotched the lease and took back its machine. Wilson again found allies to help with space and equipment anyway. Along the way, Defense Distributed shared some of its component testing designs on Thingiverse, the come-one, come-all 3D-printing design platform associated with MakerBot. Toward the end of 2012, this material was removed.