3D Printed Gun Saga: Court Case Over CAD Files Settled

Can you create 3D printed designs and distribute them freely and without restriction? Maybe, and it’s likely to become easier in the future. A settlement has been reached in the saga of the US Department of State versus Cody Wilson, and beginning August 1st the Defense Distributed library of gun designs will once again become available.

Cody is well known for creating the first 3D printed gun. He went on to found Defense Distributed, a company that published designs and technical files for 3D printing firearms before being pulled into litigation that sought to curb the distribution of such plans by subjecting them to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions. Read that carefully, it’s the (international) distribution of CAD files at question here, and not the act of 3D printing, and Defense Distributed has been granted an ITAR exemption. Will other arms-related design files be similarly exempted? The settlement mentions upcoming rule changes seeking to make this type of exemption the standard.

As members of the Hackaday community, we’re the people to whom our friends and family turn for perspective when new technology makes it into their news feeds. Those with little or no exposure to 3D printing may easily fall to doom and gloom reports. But is this a story of doom and gloom? Absolutely not, guns are still guns and 3D printers are still 3D printers. Let’s take a look.

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Ghost Gunner Machines Your AR-15

Defense Distributed and founder [Cody Wilson] have released Ghost Gunner. Defense Distributed entered the public eye a couple of years ago with The Liberator, the world’s first 3D printed gun. Since anyone with a 3D printer can print a Liberator, it is effectively untraceable. This raised a lot of questions in the media and public eye.

Ghost Gunner is a variation on the untraceable theme. Essentially, Ghost Gunner is a CNC designed for one purpose: final drilling and milling steps for AR-15 lower receivers. The reason for this has to do with federal gun laws in the United States. According to US law, the lower receiver is the actual firearm, and is regulated. But when does a block of aluminum become a lower receiver? Here, US law states that the metal becomes a regulated receiver when the machining operations are more than 80% complete.

ghostgunnergunAnyone can legally buy a barrel, trigger, stock, upper receiver, and various other parts to build an AR-15. To complete the weapon, they only need to buy an 80% lower receiver and perform the last 20% of the metal work. This work can be performed with everything from a drill press to a milling machine to hand tools. Ghost Gunner partially automates this process, making it easier and faster to complete lower receivers and build weapons.

Defense Distributed calls Ghost Gunner an open source hardware project, though we were unable to find the files available for download at this time. It appears that the slides are made up of MakerSlide or a similar aluminum extrusion. The steppers appear to be standard Nema 17 size.

Defense Distributed says that they’ve been having a hard time keeping up with the Ghost Gunner pre-orders. At $1300 each though, we think a general purpose mill or small CNC would be a better deal.

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DEFCAD, the island of misfit objects

Defense Distributed, the guys working on 3D printed guns and lower receivers for an AR-15, have a storied history with makers, corporations, and our elected representatives. When the news broke they were designing a 3D printed weapon, their $25,000 leased 3D printer was taken away from them. When their designs were too controversial for Thingiverse, they were taken down. Defense Distributed keeps on firing back, though, and now they’re hosting their own 3D model repo called DEFCAD.

In another one of Defense Distributed’s well-produced promo videos, they make their case for a repository of 3D models that doesn’t respond to takedown requests. Basically, 3D printing is a disruptive technology and is too important to be beholden to copyright lawyers, talking heads of the media, and, “the collusive members of the maker community”.

DEFCAD isn’t only about guns. They plan on hosting anything those in the upper echelons of power don’t like – or at least those with a copyright, patent, or trademark gripe – and never responding to a takedown request. It’s a great idea, somewhat akin to The Pirate Bay for physical objects, but actually popular.