6 things you should know about the 3D printed gun controversy

On Tuesday, a federal judge granted a temporary nationwide injunction preventing Cody Wilson, a gun rights advocate from Texas, from publishing blueprints for making plastic guns on 3D printers.

Here’s what you need to know:

1.) This is not a new controversy

In 2013, the first fully 3D printed gun was unveiled on a firing range in Austin, Texas. The maker of the gun, Cody Wilson, then posted the blueprints of the design on his website, DefCad.com. The plans were downloaded over 100,000 times before the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, a bureau of the U.S. Department of State, ordered him to take them down until it could be determined whether his firm had violated the prohibition against shipping weapons overseas by making the plans available to people outside the U.S..

In 2015, Wilson and the Second Amendment Foundation filed suit against the government, arguing that since the code used to create the blueprints is a language and language is speech, blocking Wilson from uploading the files violates his First Amendment rights.

The State Department reached a settlement with Wilson in June, allowing the publication of the plans; however, numerous states and gun control advocacy groups filed additional lawsuits to keep blueprints from being published.

The night prior to the plans going live, a federal judge blocked their distribution, but not before at least 1,000 blueprints were downloaded.

2.) It is not illegal to manufacture a gun for personal use in the U.S.

By and large, it is not illegal to manufacture a gun for personal use the U.S., unless the person manufacturing it is otherwise prohibited from owning a gun.

Further, under the National Firearms Act, a person is prohibited from manufacturing shotguns and rifles having barrels less than 18 inches in length, certain firearms described as “any other weapons,” machine guns, and firearm mufflers and silencers without proper registration and payment of associated taxes.

3.) It is already illegal to own an undetectable gun

The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. § 922(p)) makes it illegal to own a gun made 100 percent from undetectable materials.

It bears mentioning that all of Wilson’s weapons contain at least one metal part — which means that they are not technically undetectable.

4.) It is also illegal to sell an undetectable plastic gun

Despite President Trump’s tweet intimating that 3D guns themselves are for sale to the public, it is against the law for any manufacturer to sell an undetectable gun under the aforementioned U.S. code.

5.) Guns made for personal use do not have to be registered in most states, nor do they require serial numbers

Critics say the 3D printed firearms, or “ghost guns,” can be made without serial numbers or government registration and would allow criminals and terrorists to evade detection.

In fact, it is already possible to construct firearms for personal use from manufactured parts that are not required to have serial numbers or government registration.

Using an 80% receiver, an individual can build any number of guns and the sale of those parts is not tracked or traceable. While the ATF recommends that guns manufactured for personal use be given a unique serial number, there is no legal requirement to do so and the voluntary assignment of a number need not be registered with the government.

On July 1, the state of California passed a law requiring the manufacturer of personal use guns to obtain a unique serial number from the Department of Justice making it the only state to require such reporting.

6.) The CAD plans for many guns are still available online, despite the court rulings

Even a cursory search for “gun blueprints” will bring up links on Reddit and computer aided design (CAD) sites for everything from handguns to AR-15’s.

While the injunction against Wilson and his company, Defense Distributed, will temporarily halt the distribution of his blueprints via his site, it will not prevent others who own or have access to 3D blueprints from sharing them. Case in point: codeisfreespeech.com currently has the downloads for nine weapons available on their site.


The 3D printing of guns raises questions and concerns for law enforcement, to be sure. While the Wilson case is about the plans for the guns, not the actual manufacture of them, the fact that the Trump State Department settled the case, only to have it reintroduced in the courts weeks later, seems to be an indicator that this issue is destined for the Supreme Court.

Until a new justice is appointed to replace the now retired Anthony Kennedy, SCOTUS could be deadlocked in a decision that spans both free speech and second amendment concerns.

Legislatively, the mid-term elections could also be a determining factor if the anticipated “blue wave” puts Democrats in the majority, given that gun control is one of their cardinal issues.


[New York Times] [Forbes] [BBC] [CNN] [Photo courtesy 3D Printing Industry]