3D-printed guns are back, and this time they are unstoppable


A new network of 3D-printed gun advocates is growing in America – and this time things are different. Unlike previous attempts to popularise 3D-printed guns, this operation is entirely decentralised. There’s no headquarters, no trademarks, and no real leader. The people behind it reckon that this means they can’t be stopped by governments.

“If they [the government] were to come after me, they’d first have to find my identity,” says Ivan the Troll, a member of the group. “I’m one of many, many like-minded individuals who’re doing this sort of work.”

Known only by his online moniker, Ivan the Troll is the de facto spokesman of an underground wave of 3D-printing gunsmiths. Ivan says he knows of at least 100 people who are actively developing 3D-printed gun technology, and he claims there are thousands taking part in the network. This loose-knit community spans across the whole world.

They communicate across several digital platforms, including Signal, Twitter, IRC, and Discord. They critique each other’s work, exchange 3D gun CAD files, offer advice, talk theory, and collaborate on future blueprints. These 3D-printed gun enthusiasts – who share similar ideas and political viewpoints on gun control – mostly found each other online via gun control subreddits and forums.

Ivan is just one small part of this network. He says he is from Illinois, and is of “college age”, but otherwise he remains mostly anonymous, to lie low. At the same time though, he’s launched bombastic PR videos demonstrating the new 3D-printed gun parts he’s created in his garage, including a Glock 17 handgun frame.

One of his most recent videos shows the polymer Glock 17 frame in various stages of production in his workshop. The footage is set to fast-paced synthwave music and is run through a trendy VHS filter – the aesthetics are important. Toward the end, Ivan fires several rounds with the fully built handgun, as text flashes up saying “ANYONE CAN MAKE IT”, “LIVE FREE OR DIE”, and “GO AHEAD TRY TO STOP THIS YOU FILTHY STATISTS”. He’s also uploaded the complete CAD reference model designs for a 3D-printed AR-15 assault rifle to his file-sharing space online. It’s clear Ivan is trying to provoke his detractors as much as possible.

In February of this year, Ivan and his group decided to name themselves “Deterrence Dispensed”, which is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the notorious Defence Distributed – a 3D-printing gun company formerly run by Texan crypto-anarchist Cody Wilson.

In September 2018, Wilson, 30, was arrested and charged with sexual assault against a minor. He is alleged to have paid $500 to have sex with a 16-year-old girl in his home city of Austin, Texas. Needless to say, this arrest effectively took Wilson out of the 3D-printed gun world entirely. Many of the people who looked up to him were either disgusted or realised that his time was up. He stepped down from Defence Distributed, which was before seen as the driving force behind 3D-printed guns since it launched in 2012. Wilson was released on a $150,000 bail, but has remained silent since.

Defence Distributed has many other ongoing legal battles. Attorney generals from more than 20 US states are currently in the process of suing the company – which has countersued – in a bid to reverse a court win that momentarily allowed Defence Distributed to upload and share 3D-printed gun blueprints online. Their headaches are long, drawn out, and ongoing. (New York State has just passed a law to ban 3D-printed guns).

For Ivan’s group, Deterrence Dispensed, none of this is relevant. They’re uploading these files individually on services such as Spee.ch, a media-hosting site underpinned by the LBRY blockchain, and they aren’t waiting for anyone to give them permission. They’ve made their own 3D-printed gun designs, modified old ones, and are keeping all the Defence Distributed ones available for free too.

“Even if there was no government telling me I couldn’t do this, I think that I would still do it,” Ivan says. “Some people get a kick out of video games, I like spending hours and hours drawing stuff on CAD.”

Ivan isn’t just “drawing stuff on CAD” though. He’s providing free files to help anyone with a half-decent FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printer and some hand tools to make a workable handgun. Once the CAD file is downloaded, it’s opened in a “slicer” program that translates the CAD files into instructions that the 3D printer can understand. Once the 3D-printed gun parts are ready, they can be assembled into a fully workable gun.

The CAD gun designs put out by Deterrence Dispensed are so well-made, according to Ivan, that they’re not just “workable”, but superior. “Our AR15 CAD model is the best in the public domain without a doubt,” says Ivan.

Despite being overtly antagonistic Ivan has had no real run-ins with the authorities so far. His Twitter account was permanently suspended after New Jersey state senator Bob Menendez lobbied for it to be taken down, but as far as the government and law enforcement goes, things have been mostly quiet.

Ivan sees himself, and other radical 3D-printing gun groups such as FOSSCAD (another decentralised group of 3D-printing enthusiasts who focus on firearms), simply as hobbyists who’ve chosen the “wrong” thing to build. He sees 3D-printed guns as somewhat of a paper tiger. He points out that while 3D-printed gun parts can be built to kill people, zip guns (homemade firearms built from crude materials) have been around for decades and are arguably more deadly. The hysteria and backlash, to Ivan at least, is completely misplaced.

“Take it from me as someone who’s printed a gun. Making a slam-fire shotgun is 100 times easier, 100 times quicker, and about 100 times cheaper than printing a [regular] gun. For eight dollars I can pop down to Home Depot and build a shotgun.”

Already in 2019, 156 people have already been killed in US mass shootings, and gun-related deaths are at a 20-year high. In March, a terrorist armed with two semi-automatic rifles and two shotguns killed 51 people in an anti-muslim attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. In such circumstances, do the US (and the world) really need more guns – zip gun, 3D-printed, or otherwise? Ivan thinks yes.

“The cops killed more people alone last year than all active shooter incidents in the last ten years,” he says. “We live in a society, in America, where you run the risk of a cop blowing your ass up for no specific reason. You don’t even have to present a threat to them. A cop can kill you and get away with it just because he really wanted to do it.”

He then went on to cite the many police shootings of unarmed black men in American, specifically mentioning Stephon Clark. Clark, 22, was shot to death by police in his own back garden while holding nothing but a mobile phone. “I believe it is inherently important that … you should be able to own a gun,” Ivan continued. “You should be able to own the same legal force that the cops are using to control you.”

But the facts are clear. The majority of gun deaths around the world come from just six countries – one of which is the US. And analysis from Harvard University shows where there are more guns, more murders happen.

Anti-gun campaigners, obviously, disagree with the notion of a downloadable gun. Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Campaign, has said 3D-printed guns present a “supreme threat to our safety and security”. Speaking after a court decision in August Gardiner said: “Already, there have been a wave of dangerous actors seeking to illegally post the blueprints online”.

A mix of a libertarian attitude and the rewarding hobby aspect of designing and creating something is often what drives members of these decentralised 3D-printed gun networks to do what they do – that is, uploading schematics, sharing them, improving designs, and making 3D-printed gun work more easily accessible while remaining largely under the radar. Ivan claims he does this for a love of freedom and “radical” belief in the US first and second amendment: free speech and the right to bear arms.

He takes this to such a radical degree though, that he even theorises he should technically be able to have his own Tomahawk Missiles, saying that they would be safer in his hands than in those of the US Military and its allies – given the country’s track record for accidentally targeting civilians, including a wedding party in Afghanistan and a school bus in Yemen.

Referring to the mounting list of civilian killings carried about by US forces in foreign wars, Ivan sounds at times more like a radical leftist than the right wing “gun nut” many in America label him as. He claims not to have any specific ideology though, saying: “I get to be my own special snowflake.”

As of now, Ivan the Troll, Deterrence Dispensed, and the thousands many more 3D-printed gun enthusiasts connected to each other worldwide, have essentially let the cat out the bag. There is no way to stop the anonymous file sharing of 3D-printed guns online. Whether they’re just pretending to be doing this for reasons of liberty or otherwise, their message is clear: it’s already too late to stop.

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