A Texas man removed 3-D plastic gun blueprints from his website on Thursday afternoon, after the US State Department said he had violated United States export control laws, but not before the plans had been downloaded across the world.
Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson uploaded design plans for making the world’s first functional 3-D plastic gun, called the “Liberator,” to the group’s website on Monday. Now, policymakers are scrambling to catch up with this new frontier of gun control jurisdiction.
The State Department stepped into the debate Thursday because regulating the export of defense materials and data is a national security issue, a spokesperson told CNN.
In a letter sent to Mr. Wilson, the department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance said he must remove all data and files “from public access immediately” due to restrictions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
"Defense Distributed may have released ITAR-controlled technical data without the required authorization from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, a violation," Glenn Smith, chief of the enforcement division, said in the letter.
Technical data regulated by the ITAR includes information for the “design, development, production, manufacture, assembly, operation, repair, testing, maintenance or modification of defense articles, including information in the form of blueprints, drawings, photographs, plans, instructions or documentation,” the letter said.
By Thursday afternoon, the documents had been removed from the Defense Distributed website, which stated, “DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information."
“We have to comply,” Wilson, a law student at University of Texas in Austin, told Forbes. “All such data should be removed from public access, the letter says. That might be an impossible standard. But we’ll do our part to remove it from our servers.”
But it’s unlikely that the maneuver will prevent people from accessing the plans, Wilson said. He doesn’t see this censorship as a defeat – the government can’t prevent the spread of the plans for 3-D guns on the global Internet, he said.
“This is the conversation I want,” Wilson said. “Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of the Internet and 3D printing?”
The blueprints were downloaded more than 100,000 times between Monday and Wednesday, Forbes reported.
For Wilson, the debate is less about gun control and more about access to information. The goal of Defense Distributed is to create a “wiki weapon project” – free access to plans for 3-D printable guns, according to its website.
"The future of distributed technologies in the Internet is that no one has control of the information," he told Mashable. "This is more than guns now, man, this is about the Internet, this is about information."
But Defense Distributed now has to file Commodity Jurisdiction (CJ) determination requests for each of the gun-related components on its website, which may give lawmakers more time to determine how to regulate technology in the US.
“When I started talking about the issue of plastic firearms months ago, I was told the idea of a plastic gun is science-fiction. Now that this technology appears to be upon us, we need to act now to extend the ban on plastic firearms,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York, in a statement May 3.
Representative Israel proposed legislation called the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, which would make it illegal “to manufacture, own, transport, buy, or sell any firearm, receiver, or magazine that is homemade and not detectable by metal detector and/or does not present an accurate image when put through an X-ray machine,” the Monitor reported on Monday.
“A spousal abuser, a felon, can essentially open a gun factory in their garage,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, who backs extending the ban on plastic guns. "All that’s needed is a “computer and a little over $1,000 [for the printer]. And you don’t even have to leave your house.”