‘Lion King’ puppet technician arrested in the making of a 3-D printed gun in a Broadway theater


A New York City puppet technician and prop maker on the set of “The Lion King” has been arrested on accusations of working on a different kind of project behind the scenes: printing a 3-D weapon.

Ilya Vett, 47, has been charged with attempted criminal possession of a weapon after allegedly using a 3-D printer to make a plastic gun in a room at a Broadway theater, New York police Sgt. Jessica McRorie told The Washington Post.

Security officers at the Minskoff Theatre, where Disney’s “The Lion King” musical is playing, were first to find the 3-D printer Friday as it was producing a plastic revolver in the property room, police said. The New York Daily News reported that security found the gun because Vett was about to lose his job, and security was helping him clear out the room. The security officers contacted police.

Vett told police he brought the 3-D printer to the theater himself “because my workshop is too dusty,” according to a criminal complaint. He said that he found the computer code needed to print the gun on the Internet and downloaded it to a memory card, which feeds into the 3-D printer. The gun was supposed to be a gift for his brother, he said.

In a video made by Disney in November 2017 that is no longer available, Vett said he was in charge of fixing and painting the “Lion King” mechanical puppets should something go wrong with them, NPR reported.

Vett could not be immediately reached for comment late Monday, nor could the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan, which is listed in court records as defending Vett. He was arraigned Saturday and released on his own recognizance.

Vett’s arrest comes amid a contentious debate surrounding the legality of feeding computer code to a 3-D printer to manufacture largely untraceable, unregistered firearms.

Last month, a federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked the Texas nonprofit Defense Distributed from publishing downloadable blueprints containing computer code needed to print a variety of plastic 3-D weapons. The lawsuit was filed by more than a dozen states against Defense Distributed and the State Department, which, in a settlement agreement, allowed Defense Distributed to publish the gun files on the Internet in July.

In his August opinion, Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington wrote that the states had a “legitimate fear” that making untraceable 3-D guns widely accessible via the Internet would increase gun violence and allowed the suit to go forward, saying they had made a plausible case that the government had violated its own regulations. The Democratic states, including New York, argued that allowing people to download the 3-D gun files online skirted their gun regulations, such as background checks and gun registration.

Although it’s legal under federal law to manufacture a gun for personal use without a license, statewide laws on the issue can vary. In New York, the state police have warned that it’s illegal to possess unregistered 3-D printed pistols and revolvers without a valid pistol license.

Vett told police that his brother had a license to own a firearm, according to the criminal complaint.

“As the nation rises up and calls for action against gun violence, it is absurd and frightening that the federal government wants to make accessing an automatic weapon as easy as hitting print,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said in a July 31 statement, just before joining legal action against Defense Distributed and the State Department.

By contrast, Defense Distributed’s founder, Cody Wilson who was recently arrested on charges of sexual assault of a minor in Texas has argued it’s his First Amendment right to post the information about how to print these weapons on the Internet. Before Lasnik’s order, Wilson already had uploaded some of his 3-D gun blueprints onto the Web, and the same blueprints had already been available on other websites.

Vett, for one, does not appear to have had difficulty finding them, despite Lasnik’s order.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Vett is still employed on the set. The New York Times and New York Daily News reported he no longer works there.

His next scheduled court appearance is Nov. 7.

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