Gutenberg’s Rifle: The Downloadable Firearm Is Almost Real
Defense Distributed clears a hurdle in its race to be the first to print a working firearm.
March 25, 2013 - 6:41 pm
“The unstated assumption is that you wanted to do 3D printing so you picked guns,” he replies. “It’s the exact opposite. We imagined a world of liberalized access to firearms. So the question is, ‘Why 3D printing?’
“This was a project with a political goal. Yes we know that there are things like CNC milling and there are gun files already online, but the idea was to take a technology, celebrated by these people-power, mostly skewed liberals, ‘Oh it’s the new revolution in manufacturing!’ Take their precious technology, make guns with it, and show them, yes, it is revolutionary, and in fact that has more meaning than you think it means.”
The 3D printer community, he says, is still not willing to come to grips with the consequences of their “magic devices.”
“We think if those devices mean anything at all, then they mean things like what we’re doing,” Wilson says. “The fact that you would be able to have something specific that someone doesn’t want you to have, a tool of perhaps massive and devastating consequences.”
“I hope that this is a politically challenging project. I want it to be,” he says. “But I wonder if it is. Most of the politicians that we’ve gotten to react, have reacted simply because they don’t enjoy people being so contemptuous of them.” Wilson smiles and continues: “So if anything, this project simply teaches contempt for the petty despots in Washington.”
He says we’ll know how subversive his project is when it prints its first gun. “Barring imprisonment or indictment,” Wilson laughs and says he thinks he could have the first printed assembly within a month. That timeline depends in part on an add-on to his FFL, for which he has applied.
Wilson has approached the printing of guns with intelligence, a sense of humor, and openness. Prior to Defense Distributed, he had no background in engineering, 3D modeling software, or physical printing. He and his team have created their software models by hand. Their process has been one of trial and error, with failures and successes posted to YouTube. One such test, a lower that broke after firing only a couple of rounds, was branded by media and many observers as a failure, but Wilson views it as a success.
“I think it shows a dedication to the project and an openness behind it. We’re not just putting up the successes of the project,” he says, then takes a sharp turn. “But in a sense I still think it was a success. Look, here’s one of the first printed lowers out there, on video, getting shot. And all we did was take a file that someone else designed on Thingiverse. Put it up in a rifle configuration and shoot the thing just to show people what it would do.”
So Cody Wilson has a Thomas Edison streak, believing that perspiration and failure plus persistence can lead to success. He is very hard-working, engaged on the printing project every day, seven days a week. The question of what Cody Wilson is — rebel, inventor, or performance artist — permeates our entire conversation.
After posting that video, Wilson says, the “drive-by media was done with the story.” He attributes the term “drive-by media” to Rush Limbaugh. Wilson is an avid consumer of alternative and conservative media, and allows that he’s a fan of The Walking Dead and comedian Russell Brand. At another point, though, he calls television a tool of the state meant to make us tired. There are no TVs at all in the apartment in which we met.
Within a month of the “failure,” he says, his printed lowers and magazines were withstanding far more punishment at the range. He says he has fired hundreds of NATO 5.56 rounds and .223 rounds without breaking his current lowers.
Defense Distributed had been working on printing guns months before the Sandy Hook killer claimed the lives of 27, including 20 children. Wilson says that his group knew immediately that an assault weapons ban and magazine limits would become hot political issues, so they moved quickly.
“We knew as soon as Sandy Hook happened that the AWB would be an important political football again, so we got onto it. We were like, what can we do right now with this technology? We thought magazines, no problem.” He says the “no problem” slowly to emphasize how easy it would be and has been. “And the first magazine was going to be named after Feinstein too, in honor of this effort of hers to take away our rights. But, [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo got there first with his law, and it’s so ridiculous. He did it in such a petty way. They did it so quickly, against all the ostensible traditions of American liberalism and openness. So I decided to name the first magazine after him.” He later handed me a functional Cuomo magazine. It’s light and tough. Made from plastic, it could probably last forever in a landfill.
“It’s a permanent monument to his ridiculous effort to ban, impede our rights as Americans,” Wilson says. “I hope it permanently affects his legacy. I tell you one thing, the man wants to be president of the United States.” Wilson laughs at the thought. “He’s made a permanent enemy of most red staters who pay attention. He’s not going to be president now, so he did the damage himself.”
In case you’re wondering, no, Wilson isn’t looking for your vote and he’s not running for office. He isn’t trying to make friends or please anyone. He’s trying to “punch back.”
Cody Wilson is well-read and extremely well-informed on current events and culture. He’ll move from quoting Hannah Arendt to Michel Foucault to the American Anti-Federalists seamlessly. He says he believes in fundamental political equality. Progressives, he says, don’t believe in that, despite what they say.
“This is the fundamental problem with progressives and perhaps American socialism in general: ‘We believe we can achieve equality through programs of inequality.’ Specifically political, but that applies to economic as well,” he says. He believes that it’s utopian to think that the democratic system can lead to the outcomes that either progressives or conservatives desire.
His view of government and big media: “I wanna starve this beast.”
The process of printing a gun is key, and Wilson says: “We’re doing things right now that you wouldn’t believe.”
Interview done, it’s time for show and tell.