UT Student Leading Home Gun-Making Project
A loose group of civil libertarians, led by a University of Texas law student, wants to teach the world how to make a gun – at home.
The group has set up a collaborative website to create plans for what they’re calling the world’s first Wiki Weapon. The site has caught the eye of federal law enforcement.
The gun would be made from about $60 worth of resin. It would shoot conventional .22-caliber ammunition. And, because it’s made from plastic, it would pass unnoticed through a metal detector. The gun could be created at home, on a microwave-sized device called a 3-D printer. 3-D printers sell for as little as $2,000, and are typically used by hobbyists to print small plastic things like jewelry, chess pieces, or sculptures. Cody Wilson, a second-year law student at UT who leads the group, says this new technology will ultimately put a gun in the hand of anyone who wants one, anywhere.
“There are regimes all over the world that have said, for better or for worse, you don’t have the right to access to a firearm,” Wilson said. “Well, perhaps it’s not in their control in the future. Perhaps it’s not up to some majority to say anymore. Perhaps these things, regardless of your philosophical assumptions, are going to be ultimately inalienable. That’s exciting.”
Exciting to some, horrifying to others. The prospect of unregulated, unmonitored gun factories in basements and garages across America has the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives worried.
“It is a concern if it does become a criminal misuse of this that we aren’t going to know who is making the firearms,” ATF spokesman Mike Campbell said. “We aren’t going to know who is allowing these firearms to get into the illegal market.”
The gun’s design is still being developed. Some skeptics say it’s impossible to build a working gun from plastic, but Wilson says it’s just a matter of time. His group suffered a setback recently when their high-end commercial 3-D printer had its lease cancelled and was repossessed by the manufacturer. The company was concerned that the printer was being used for illegal activities. Wilson says what he’s doing is not illegal—but it is pushing the boundaries of current gun laws.
“What is a pistol?” Wilson said. “A pistol has no definition. All of these laws are based on old-world ideas of what guns are, conventional ideas of what a firearm is. So we’re out in this grey area in terms of materials and action, what it might look like what it might not look like. I can’t tell you that it is a pistol.”
There are plenty of existing laws that govern the making of firearms, even at home. The ATF says these rules do apply to home printing of guns and gun parts. Anyone wanting to make guns at home, legally, would need to understand and follow those laws. Wilson says that because his group is working with gun plans instead of actual guns, they should get some shelter from the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. But constitutional law professor Sanford Levinson doesn’t see it that way.
“I simply do not believe that many judges will be receptive to an argument that a 3-D process that allows you at the end of it to have a functioning gun that presumably could kill people, is protected by the First Amendment,” Levinson said.
Cody Wilson says he has had some voluntary discussions with the ATF and has briefed them on his plans. Wilson’s group has hired a lawyer to help them become a registered gun maker. He says they’re raising money to get another 3-D printer and restart their project.