Printable Firearms Revolution Advances Despite Corporation Protests

I reported on a internet gunsmith by the name of “Have Blue” who used a 3D printer to manufacture the lower receiver of an AR-15 to make a fully functional weapon that fired both .22 and .223 caliber ammunition successfully. Recently, another gentleman was attempting to do the same thing. Cody Wilson established the site in order to facilitate the creation of downloadable gun design blueprints. However, their plans were cut short when the 3D printer they received on lease was immediately picked up by the company claiming they were violating the law in what they were doing.

Wired reports,

“They came for it straight up,” Cody Wilson, director of Defense Distributed, the online collective that oversees the Wiki project, tells Danger Room. “I didn’t even have it out of the box.” Wilson, who is a second-year law student at the University of Texas at Austin, had leased the printer earlier in September after his group raised $20,000 online. As well as using the funds to build a pistol, the Wiki Weapon project aimed to eventually provide a platform for anyone to share 3-D weapons schematics online. Eventually, the group hoped, anyone could download the open source blueprints and build weapons at home.

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Until Stratasys pulled the lease, the Wiki Weapon project intended to make a fully 3-D printed pistol for the first time, though it would likely be capable of only firing a single shot until the barrel melted. Still, that would go further than the partly plastic AR-15 rifle produced by blogger and gunsmith Michael Guslick. Also known as “Have Blue,” Guslick became an online sensation after he made a working rifle by printing a lower receiver and combining it with off-the-shelf metal parts.

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But last Wednesday, less than a week after receiving the printer, Wilson received an e-mail from Stratasys: The company wanted its printer returned. Wilson wrote back, and said he believed using the printer to manufacture a firearm would not break federal laws regarding at-home weapons manufacturing. For one, the gun wouldn’t be for sale. Wilson added that he didn’t have a firearms manufacturers license.

Stratasys’ legal counsel responded via email to Wilson stating ““It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes. Therefore, please be advised that your lease of the Stratasys uPrint SE is cancelled at this time and Stratasys is making arrangements to pick up the printer.”

The problem was that Wilson was not distributing weapons, nor going to sell them.

Rich Brown, from Cnet, covers the fact that Robert Beckhusen, the man who wrote the Wired article, did a follow up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He writes,

Beckhusen reports that a visit to the Austin, TX branch of the ATF turned into an unexpected questioning session for Wilson when he went down to investigate the legal requirements of the Defense Distributed project.

Beckhusen also writes that, according to Wilson, “the ATF believes he’s not broken any laws, and that the agency believes 3-D printed guns fall into a regulatory gray area, but that he still needs to get licensed if he’s to manufacture a weapon.

That runs contrary to the advice I received from ATF’s national branch last month, when a spokesperson told me that you don’t need to register as a firearms manufacturer if, like Wilson, you have no intent to sell.

As for the legality the Guardian reports,

According to Dave Kopel, the research director of the Independence Institute, it is legal to create pistols, revolvers and rifles at home, although some states are stricter than others. As long as an inventor isn’t selling, sharing or trading the weapon, under federal law, a license isn’t necessary. Homemade creations also don’t need to be registered with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and are legal for use by the individual who created the weapon.

But there are some exceptions to what can be printed legally. Military-grade weapons like machine guns, rocket launchers, sawed-off shotguns and explosives, as well as concealed firearms (like guns within phones or pens) need prior ATF approval before a manufacturer can create them. Federal law also requires “any other weapon, other than a pistol or revolver, from which a shot is discharged by an explosive if such weapon is capable of being concealed on the person” to be subject to ATF review. Since a potential Wiki Weapon would likely be “any other weapon”, the ATF would probably have to approve a prototype, and the bureau has said as much.

Either way, if a fully functional plastic Wiki Weapon is printed, it may be illegal upon creation thanks to an obscure law from the late 1980s. In 1988, Congress passed the Undetectable Firearms Act after the Glock company provoked controversy by selling firearms made with plastic polymers. The technique, which was revolutionary at the time but is common in the industry today, alarmed many gun control advocates who were concerned that plastic guns wouldn’t register in airport x-ray machines.

Another less hypothetical legal issue concerns the receiver or frame of the gun. In the United States manufactured guns are regulated by serial numbers, which are only printed on the receiver. All other parts of a gun – the barrel, the magazine, the handle, the trigger, etc – don’t have to be registered and can be bought by anyone.

I predict that within a year or two, this will go a bit more mainstream and we’ll even begin to see new gun designs. The price of the printers will come down and people will be using these for more than just firearms. However, it should be noted that creating a fully functioning plastic firearm that will last is not yet possible. Not only that, it would be dangerous for the user. This is why Michael Guslick, the passed the test with his AR-15 lower. All of his other parts were metal.

Watch the video fro the wiki weapon below:

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