CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cody Wilson first posted his design for a 3D-printed gun in 2013. The design had mostly plastic components, along with a metal firing pin and a metal plate to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988.
President Obama’s administration demanded Wilson remove the blueprints from his website, saying that posting the designs constituted exporting firearms to foreign entities.
Wilson complied and took down the designs, but sued the State Department over the claim. On June 29, the Department of Justice offered Wilson a settlement, allowing him and his Texas company, Defense Distributed, to begin posting designs online again.
Now, some policymakers are trying to prevent such designs from going mainstream.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle issued a restraining order Tuesday that effectively halted the plans of Wilson’s Texas company, Defense Distributed, to release 3D-printed gun designs online, arguing, “There is a possibility or irreparable harm because of the way these guns can be made.”
Ohio Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine explained Wednesday during a press conference why he didn’t join nine other attorneys general Monday in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop Defense Distributed from publishing its designs online.
“My lawyers in the attorney general’s office tell me that it is legal to make a gun,” DeWine said. “It is not legal to sell it under those circumstances without a specific permit. That’s what the law is already.
“I don’t even understand the purpose of the lawsuit,” DeWine said.
DeWine’s Democratic rival, and former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Richard Cordray disagreed on Twitter.
“3D-printed guns are a bridge too far. @MikeDeWine’s position could allow criminals and the mentally ill to print their own guns at home and severely hamper our law enforcement officers from being able to do their jobs,” Cordray tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
When it comes to Wilson and Defense Distributed, however, the issue is not the sale of 3D-printed guns themselves, but rather, the online posting of blueprints for weapons and weapon parts. That was, after all, how the State Department under the Obama Administration, targeted Wilson in 2013.
“I’m talking about files, I’m not talking about the guns,” Wilson said this week on CBS This Morning. “I’m not a licensed gun manufacturer. I don’t make guns at this location. I have data. I can share the data.”
Despite a recent uptick in concern about plastic weapons, federal law already allows people to make their own firearms at home without a license. It’s a relatively rare practice, according to The Washington Post, but since the government can’t fully monitor weapons without serial numbers, it’s unclear how many DIY guns are made each year.
Cheap 3D printers can cost a few hundred dollars, but those needed to make a functional gun at home cost several thousand dollars, per USA Today.
In 2013, Australian police used a $1,700 printer to make “The Liberator” — the Defense Distributed plastic pistol that set off the current legal battle, The Guardian reported. The gun shattered as soon as a bullet fired. A 3D-printed gun made of metal would probably perform better; those machines cost over $100,000. The means current consumer access is limited.
Since home printers come with an expensive price tag and steep learning curve, many creators use spaces like those in public libraries.
The Cleveland Public Library’s MakerSpace and the three Innovation Centers at the Cuyahoga County Public Libraries in Garfield Heights, Mayfield and Parma-Snow offer 3D printing. Creators at all facilities have to attend an orientation, submit design plans to the library’s staff and pay for the plastic they use.
Several library representatives, including Mike Young of the Cleveland Public Library and Matt Skvasik, innovation programming specialist at the Cuyahoga County Public Library, said there has not been an uptick in calls, questions or attempts to print 3D weapons or weapon parts.
Both organizations have policies against printing weapons or any part of a weapon. While one branch of the CCPL received a 3D printing request for a design of a bump stock, which they denied, according to Skvasik, most creator spaces find themselves denying cosplay weapons, toy daggers and sharp board game and chess pieces.
The alternative to visiting a makers’ space is to purchase one’s own 3D printer, which can be done through a host of online outlets and brick-and-mortar stores.
MakerGear, a Beachwood company that makes 3D printers, has not seen increased or decreased sales due to people inquiring about or mentioning printing weapons or weapon parts, according to MakerGear founder Rick Pollack.
“Using a desktop 3D printer to print guns is just not the best idea,” Pollack told cleveland.com. “Certainly people can have the freedom to do it; it doesn’t mean they should. Metal printers, that can be an issue, but if you make them out of plastic? It’s a distraction, really.”
Daniel Webster is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which is “dedicated to reducing gun-related injuries and deaths through the application of strong research methods and public health principles.”
“I am very concerned about the ability of large numbers of people being able to make their own guns with 3D printers,” Webster said in a statement to cleveland.com. “Our system for keeping guns from dangerous people is laid on a foundation of accountability by those who sell guns and who buy them.”
“Making it easy for criminals and gun traffickers to by-pass these laws by making, selling and using guns made with 3D printers would increase gun violence, at least in states where gun laws are strong enough to curb illegal gun sales and possession,” Webster said.