Let’s be honest. The Wiki Weapons Project is a bad idea, and has been from the start. In brief, a bunch of guys down in Texas want to design plans for a deadly gun whose plans can be downloaded and then 3D-printed by anyone with access to the right equipment. Letting anyone make their own untraceable gun with zero skill and zero background checks required does seem like a bad idea, right? The 3D printing industry thinks so, too. Oh, and so does the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms an Explosives (ATF).
One thing you can give the Wiki Weapons guys credit for is determination. The group tried crowdsourcing their project on Indiegogo — all they needed was $20,000 to rent a 3D printer — but the website promptly shut them down out of suspicion that raising money online to build guns is illegal. Somehow, they managed to raise the money through other means and finally received the 3D printer in the mail last week. A few days later, Stratasys, the printer manufacturer, emailed the group’s leader to let him know that they were going to need that printer back. “They came for it straight up,” Cody Wilson, the group’s leader, told Wired, adding that he’d had the printer for less than a week. “I didn’t even have it out of the box.”
Turns out Stratasys wasn’t so thrilled about their equipment being used to manufacture guns. “It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes," said their lawyer in an email to Wilson. “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.” Sure enough, a van full of contractors showed up at Wilson’s house the next day, loaded up the printer and took it away. Wilson insists that his plan to manufacture guns in his own home without a license is legal, and he may be right. You don’t actually need a license to make guns, unless they’re for sale or trade. But you also can’t build machine guns, assault rifles or sawed off shotguns. And if you manufacture a weapon “capable of being concealed on the person,” you have to consult the ATF.
So that’s exactly what Wilson did. On Monday, he marched down to the local field office in Austin, where he was promptly shuffled into an interrogation room only to be told that he was under investigation. Oopsie! The agents confirmed that it’s not necessarily illegal to manufacture your own gun but explained that Wilson’s plan falls into a regulatory grey area, so he’d better get a license after all. As CNET pointed out in their coverage of the incident, this contradicts previous statements made by the ATF. Nevertheless, it would appear that nobody’s very comfortable with this idea of printing weapons without any oversight.
This isn’t going to stop Wilson. He went back home on Monday feeling more determined than ever. He talked to a lawyer, looked into getting a license and started trying to figure out how to get another 3D printer. “We want everyone else to not have to do these things, so fine, we’ll do them, we’ll fool around with it, we’ll pay the thousands of dollars per year,” Wilson said. “It’s just disgusting. I hate that that’s the way it is, but that’s apparently the regulatory landscape."