The scramble to stop 3D-printed gun designs

A Texas-based company plans to post blueprints on the internet Wednesday.

Daniel Southwick shows off a gun made by a 3D printer. It's been modified so it can't shoot bullets, but its creation raises disturbing questions.        (Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Daniel Southwick shows off a gun made by a 3D printer. It's been modified so it can't shoot bullets, but its creation raises disturbing questions. (Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

After winning a legal challenge, a Texas company plans to share blueprints for 3D-printed guns on the internet Wednesday, allowing people to create plastic deadly weapons from their homes.

Gun control groups are asking for an emergency injunction to stop a plan by 25-year-old radical libertarian Cody Wilson and his Texas-based company, Defense Distributed, to post online blueprints for 3D-printed guns on August 1st. In a letter to a Texas federal judge this week, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence called the plans “troubling,” “dangerous” and “potentially illegal.”

Gun control advocates claim that unlike traditional guns, 3D-printed guns can be obtained without a background check, can’t be identified by metal detectors, and do not have serial numbers that can be traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms. The groups say the blueprints will allow criminals, terrorists, and other people legally prevented from purchasing guns under current law to get their hands on weapons.

The federal government recently settled a lawsuit with Wilson, allowing him to share blueprints for a pistol called the Liberator and AR-style guns. The settlement is a reversal for the government, which had previously ordered Wilson to remove his blueprints from the internet.


Wilson first shared his blueprints online in 2013, when they were downloaded roughly 100,000 times before the State Department ordered him to stop. At the time, the agency claimed that Wilson was violating federal export laws because the designs were being printed outside the United States. Wilson filed suit, arguing that his free speech rights were being violated. In June, the State Department agreed to a settlement allowing him to repost his blueprints at the end of July.

Wilson celebrated on Twitter, sharing the settlement and a photo of a grave to “American gun control.”

New Jersey’s attorney general also wrote a letter Thursday calling on Wilson’s company to stop its plans, claiming it would violate state law to allow anyone — regardless of age, criminal status, or history of mental illness — to print a gun.


“The files you plan to publish offer individuals, including criminals, codes that they can use to create untraceable firearms — and even to make assault weapons that are illegal in my state,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote.

Experts in the gun industry, however, claim that 3D printed guns won’t appeal to criminals because the printers are expensive, printing isn’t a practical way to obtain a weapon, and the plastic guns don’t function as well as other firearms. They can only fire a small number of rounds before they break and they cannot hold magazines or shoot multiple rounds in a row, like traditional guns.

“It costs thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to acquire a printer and the files and the knowhow to do this,” Larry Keane, executive director of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun manufacturers, told the AP. “They don’t work worth a damn. Criminals can obviously go out and steal guns or even manufacture quote-unquote real guns, not 3D printed.”