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In 1984, 3D printers and 3D printing were in their infancy, and not as widely available or popular as it is today. 3D printing wouldn’t become a buzzword until the mid-2000s, when many industries would discover its applications. Thanks to 3D printing, various industries could churn out prototypes or actual models in less time and less cost. Small companies and individuals discovered they could make everything from toys, human prosthetic limbs, car parts, and even guns. Yes, guns. That’s what former University of Texas law student Cody Wilson successfully accomplished in 2013, after tinkering with his own designs and printing out a relatively simple, one-shot plastic gun chambered in .380.

After a successful test, Wilson dubbed his creation “The Liberator” and uploaded the plans on his website, Defcad.com, where it scored 100,000 downloads in just a few days. Months earlier, Wilson launched a youtube video declaring how he endeavored to create his own search engine to enable people to find “the important stuff” – plans for 3D-printing prosthetic limbs, goods and of course guns. The US State Department took notice of the uploaded gun blueprints less than week after he uploaded them, and had his website taken down. Wilson was threatened with charges of “exporting weapons without a license”, under the regulations set by the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

An actual sample of the “Liberator” 3D-printable one-shot plastic pistol. It first got Cody Wilson in hot water with the State Department, but after he, the Second Amendment Foundation and other plaintiffs sued for violating their 1st and 2nd Amendment Rights, this and other designs are now legal (Guns.com /2013/05/31/3d-printed-liberator-gets-community-update-version-1-1/).

Wilson took down the site and was reminded by his lawyer that he could face millions in punitive fees and may even serve time in prison, because by making the file available online, he was also making it available to downloaders outside the US, which, to ITAR, constituted the “exporting weapons without a license” charge. Although Cody Wilson and his company, Defense Distributed, could easily have thrown in the towel, Wilson chose not to go down without a fight. Defense Distributed teamed up with the Second Amendment Foundation to sue the US State Department for “Censorship of 3D Printing Information.” This charge by Wilson, along with the help of the Second Amendment Foundation and several co-plaintiffs, pointed out that by curtailing their posting of the 3D printable data, they effectively violated their right to bear arms and their right to free speech, even if that the “speech” was in the form of “code”. Wilson and his co-plaintiffs filed this class-action suit in 2015, and the Department of Justice just recently put forward a settlement. This surprising development in this case essentially says that the Department of Justice did violate Wilson and his group’s rights, and they can no longer prevent them from distributing 3D printing plans for guns. Last June, the Department of Justice also promised to amend the ITAR export control rules on any firearm below .50 caliber and transfer their regulation over to the Commerce Department, while the regulations on full-auto weapons and designs that use caseless ammunition still apply. Following their important victory, the Second Amendment Foundation shared that “The government has also agreed to pay a significant portion of the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, and to return $10,000 in State Department registration dues paid by Defense Distributed as a result of the prior restraint.” You can view more comments of The Second Amendment Foundation on their legal victory here.

At the center of a legal firestorm about 3D-printed guns is Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed. Just last June, the Department of Justice settled with Wilson and other co-plaintiffs who sued the State Department for infringing on their rights to bear arms and free speech by preventing them from distributing 3D blueprints for guns (TheTruthAboutGuns.com/2018/07/daniel-zimmerman/saf-dept-of-justice-settle-defense-distributed-first-amendment-lawsuit/).

As of this writing, Cody Wilson plans to relaunch Defcad.com and upload all the firearm blueprints his company has been creating and collecting, ranging from the one-shot Liberator, to AR-15 frames and other DIY semiautomatic weapons. The new site will also be open to user-generated plans as well. Wilson hopes that the site will become the go-to repository for 3D-printable firearms.