Type of site
|Open source digital publishing|
|Launched||July 27, 2012|
Defense Distributed is an online, open-source organization that develops digital firearms files, or "wiki weapons", that may be downloaded from the Internet and used in 3D printing or CNC milling applications. Among the organization's goals is to develop and freely publish firearms-related design schematics that can be downloaded and reproduced by anyone with a 3D printer or milling machine, facilitating the popular production of ghost guns.
The company is best known for developing and releasing the files for the Liberator, the world's first completely 3D printed gun. On May 5, 2013, Defense Distributed made these printable STL files public, and within days the United States Department of State demanded they be removed from the Internet, citing a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
On May 6, 2015, Defense Distributed, joined by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), brought suit against the Department of State in the Western District of Texas, which denied its preliminary injunction request. It subsequently appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which affirmed the denial, and then the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
On July 10, 2018 it was announced that Defense Distributed and Second Amendment Foundation had accepted a settlement offer from the Department of State, effectively winning the case and restarting their work. Washington district judge Robert S. Lasnik issued an order to stop the release of the spread of information through computer files. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by states and Defense Distributed.
After raising US$20,000 via a suspended crowd-funding appeal, suffering the confiscation of its first 3D printer, and partnering with private manufacturing firms, the organization began live fire testing of the first generation of printable firearms in December 2012.
In its first year of operation the organization produced a durable printed receiver for the AR-15, the first printed standard capacity AR-15 magazine, and the first printed magazine for the AK-47. These 3D printable files were available for download at the organization's publishing site DEFCAD, but are now largely hosted on file sharing websites.
According to the Defense Distributed website, the nonprofit is organized and operated for charitable and literary purposes, specifically "to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court, through facilitating global access to, and the collaborative production of, information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms; and to publish and distribute... such information and knowledge in promotion of the public interest." The website's “Manifesto” link directs users to an online version of John Milton's essay Areopagitica.
The organization’s motivations have been described as "less about [a] gun... than about democratizing manufacturing technology," In an interview with Slashdot, Cody Wilson described the Wiki Weapon project as a chance to "experiment with Enlightenment ideas… to literally materialize freedom.”
In December 2012, as a response to Makerbot Industries' decision to remove firearms-related 3D printable files at the popular repository Thingiverse, Defense Distributed launched a companion site at defcad.org to publicly host the removed 3D printable files and its own. Public and community submissions to DEFCAD rose quickly, and in March 2013, at the SXSW Interactive festival, Wilson announced a repurposed and expanded DEFCAD as a separate entity that would serve as a 3D search engine and development hub, while maintaining the spirit of access endemic to Defense Distributed. The new DEFCAD was deemed "The Pirate Bay of 3D Printing" and "the anti-Makerbot" even before its launch, provided an index of over 100,000 files.
In October 2014, Defense Distributed began selling to the public a miniature CNC mill for completing receivers for the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. For a review of the machine in Wired, Andy Greenberg manufactured a series of lowers and called the machine "absurdly easy to use."
Defense Distributed is a pending 501(c)(3) federal tax exempt organization, and not a weapons manufacturer. The organization operates to publish intellectual property and information developed by licensed firearms manufacturers and the public.
International Traffic in Arms Regulations
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On May 9, 2013, The United States Department of State Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) directed Defense Distributed to remove the download links to its publicly accessible CAD files. The State Department's letter, likely prompted by the Liberator Pistol, referenced § 127.1 of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), interpreting the regulations to impose a prior approval requirement on publication of Defense Distributed's files into the public domain, a legal position noted at the time to suffer from First and Second Amendment infirmities.
On May 6, 2015, Defense Distributed filed a Constitutional challenge against the State Department in the Western District of Texas, suing government agents within the DDTC and accusing the government of knowingly violating the company's First, Second, and Fifth amendment liberties. Defense Distributed was joined in its suit by the Second Amendment Foundation.
In August 2015, the District Court for Western Texas in Austin denied Defense Distributed's preliminary injunction request. In September 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit similarly ruled against Defense Distributed and subsequently denied an en banc hearing request. A petition was filed with the Supreme Court in August 2017 which was denied on January 8, 2018.
On July 10, 2018, Wired magazine published the news that Defense Distributed and SAF had accepted a settlement offer from the Department of State. Cody Wilson explained his intention was to immediately relaunch DEFCAD and begin the work of digitizing popular firearms for public consumption. A temporary restraining order was issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik on July 31, 2018. Additional lawsuits have been filed by both sides.
Learning of Defense Distributed's plans in 2012, manufacturer Stratasys, Ltd threatened legal action and demanded the return of the 3D printer it had leased to Wilson. On September 26, before the printer was assembled for use, Wilson received an email from Stratasys suggesting that he might use the printer "for illegal purposes". Stratasys immediately canceled its lease with Wilson and sent a team to confiscate the printer the next day. Wilson was subsequently questioned by the ATF when visiting an ATF field office in Austin, Texas to inquire about legalities and regulations relating to the Wiki Weapons project.
The Undetectable Firearms Act
Defense Distributed's efforts have prompted renewed discussion and examination of the Undetectable Firearms Act. The Liberator pistol was cited in White House and Congressional calls to renew the Act in 2013.
Defense Distributed has been obliquely endorsed by the Gun Owners of America (GOA).[not in citation given] However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has offered - to date - no public comment on the organization or its activities.
Open source software advocate Eric S. Raymond has endorsed the organization and its efforts, calling Defense Distributed "friends of freedom" and writing "I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolize the use of force. As 3D printers become less expensive and more ubiquitous, this could be a major step in the right direction."
Aaron Timms of Blouin News has written Defense Distributed has performed “the greatest piece of political performance art of [the 21st] century.”,
For its activities, Defense Distributed has been accused of endangering public safety and attempting to frustrate and alter the US system of government. However, critics have also noted that Defense Distributed has merely offered the means of production back to the masses in a way not too dissimilar from the effect the printing press had on the spread of information and the decentralization of power in societies.
- 3D printed firearms
- Right to keep and bear arms
- Gun control
- Gun politics in the United States
- Improvised firearm
- List of notable 3D printed weapons and parts
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