Stratasys seizes 3D printer from printable gun project

A tray of pistol prototypes, printed on an Objet printer, shown on the Objet blog. Objet has merged with Stratasys. Slightly ironic?

It’s not easy to want to 3D print a gun. I didn’t say to 3D print a gun, I said to want to 3D print one. Nope, someone wanted to do just that, but before any gun was ever printed, he had his leased 3D printer seized. If this were the government doing the seizing, I’d be very scared of my increasingly deteriorating rights, indeed, as this would amount to the police stopping me before I’d committed a possible crime. But in this case, it was the 3D printer manufacturer who took the printer away, based upon the intended use that the 3D printer company says was not consistent with their terms of service.

Defense Distributed and it’s spokesman Corey Wilson, has had a difficult time with his Wiki Weapon Project, whose idea was to start a competition to create the first 3D-printable gun capable of actually firing a bullet, and eventually of providing a platform for anyone to share 3D weapons schematics online. First, Indiegogo pulled his crowdsourcing project, already approved and running, after, I assume, they received complaints from anti-gun activists. I can safely assume that since they had no problem approving the project in the first place. But then the project got a shot in the arm when private donations poured in from gun rights supporters and funded his project outside of Indiegogo to the tune of $20,000. This was a couple weeks ago.

After banking the twenty grand, Wilson went out and leased a Stratasys uPrint SE 3D printer and was on his way to making and testing a gun in the coming weeks. But soon after receiving the printer, Stratasys began to question his use of their product. After a final letter from the Stratasys legal department, the text of which is shown below and also posted on Wilson’s Tumbler blog, a team from Stratasys, came to his door and seized the 3D printer. He hadn’t even gotten it out of the box yet.

Dear Mr. Wilson,

I am in receipt of your email dated September 26, 2012 in which you state your opinion that your intended use of the Stratasys uPrint SE will not be in violation of federal firearms laws. You have also made it clear that you do not have a federal firearms manufacturers license. Based upon your lack of a license and your public statements regarding your intentions in using our printer, Stratasys disagrees with your opinion. However, we do not intend to engage in a legal debate with you.

It is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes. 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. Please notify me when, in the next 48 hours, we can pick up the printer.

Legal Counsel, Stratasys, Inc.

Corporate lawyers do what lawyers do, and one of their tasks is to remove all risk from the business they represent. You can’t blame them for that. And the public relations aspect of the first 3D printed gun being created on a Stratasys 3D printer was probably not overly appealing to the company.

I’m sure this action would hold up in court, and I can understand Stratasys taking back the printer for a variety of reasons, but this whole saga from the Indiegogo project take-down, to where we are now, just leaves me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Wilson emphasizes that everything his group is doing is legal, since the manufacturing of weapons is not prohibited as long as they are not for sale or trade. Anything more than a personal weapon requires a special license, which he does not have. But which he does not need either, since he had no intention of selling or trading any printed gun, and his ultimate goal is to simply provide an online repository of CAD files for user-designed weapons.

The next step for Cody Wilson will undoubtably be to get his hands on a home-built 3D printer, which will have no use restrictions. But I do worry that Cody himself may be seized one of these days — after all, under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, the current administration has signed into law their right to detain American citizens and hold them indefinitely with no due process if they suspect them to be a terrorism threat. You don’t think this can happen? Then ask Brandon J. Raub, who didn’t say worse than most radicals of the Occupy movement do.

Lest you think that I want the people of the world printing their own guns in their homes, that’s not where I’m on on this issue. At this point, I’m just distressed by the outcry against Cody Williams, who hasn’t even printed a gun yet.

If you haven’t seen the original Indiegogo video yet, here you go:

‘Nuff said.

  • Mark,

    Cool article, interesting read. I’m more on the pro-gun side of things, but I can’t say that this is super radical of Stratasys. I mean, he’s pretty blatant about his intentions, you know? I’m all for gun rights, but the thought of ANYONE being able to produce a piece is a little scary. I like the fact that it is hard for criminals to (legally) acquire guns, but this would make it that much easier for the “wrong” people to get a hold of weaponry. I personally believe that the 2nd amendment will hold up, but if it doesn’t – I would enjoy this kind of thing. However, I really doubt the second amendment is going anywhere.

    The movement for gun printing could result in the government strictly regulating (or banning) 3D printing for citizens, or requiring a series of licenses and complicated stuff, which would then in turn (potentially) slow the maker movement. I love the thought of making self-defense available for anyone, but if a user can spend over $1,000 on a printer, they could probably also spend $150-$200 on a small handgun or a shotgun. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    What do you think Mark?

    -Waldo

  • @Waldo:

    I think that as long as it is legal to create your own firearm for your own personal use, then you should be able to do it. If that’s not what people want, then we’ll have to change the laws.

    I’m not worried about more people having firearms. I think more law abiding Americans should, to protect themselves against the crazies. But I do worry about people printing a substandard gun that explodes in their face–but I would not want to law that bans stupidity. We can’t have government trying to protect us from everything, which is something that I worry more about than most anything else.

    As for Stratasys, I understand. It’s just business. And if they do have a legal right to terminate (I have no idea if they do or not), then it’s okay with me, because in addition to gun rights, I believe in the rights of companies to decide who they do business with.

    As for Indiegogo, I say shame on them for putting up a project, knowing full well what it was, and then giving in to whiners.

    The government won’t ban 3D printing due to things like this; they’d do it for patent and copyright problems well before that. But no outright ban will be coming–technology is unstoppable. Unfortunately, also unstoppable in recent decades is government’s regulation of everything, and look for 3D printing to be heavily regulated. They can tell you what type of light bulb you can use, so it’s not a stretch to have limits on what you can make.

    • Hey Mark,

      My main issue with this sort of thing is criminals getting a hold of weaponry. This sort of thing is great for a 1-2 shot self-defense piece. I bet within the next few years, as the maker movement progresses & people become more crafty – a DIY weapon would be able to shoot 5-6 rounds. The wrong person making 3-4 weapons which can shoot 5-6 rounds each is scary. Wouldn’t you agree?

      I’m not against making it easy for self defense, however I AM against criminals creating undocumented weaponry. I don’t think it should be easy for the crazies to get a hold of weaponry. The argument for the law abiding citizens making weapons seems like a mediocre point, as they could simply go to walmart, Academy, or any local gunshop and save $750 to purchase a much more reliable piece instead of buying a printer.

      “…if that’s what people want, then we’ll have to change the laws.” -We need to make a call on this, you’re very right, Mark.

      On Indiegogo – I agree with you 100%. They shouldn’t have tapped out.

      On regulation – they probably won’t ban 3D printing on the consumer level, but they could likely regulate it… a lot. I don’t anticipate heavy regulation, but if we start seeing a bunch of DIY’ers in their garages making weapons, we may see this regulation. If undocumented weaponry is expanding exponentially, there could VERY likely be regulation. Not to say that this regulation would prevent people from doing it anyway (like you said), but this potential regulation could make it a lot harder for the law-abiding-DIY’ers.

      Just my thoughts. Love the article Mark.
      -Waldo

  • Interesting addition from RedOrbit:

    “Following this little repossession, Wilson visited his local ATF field office in Austin to ask about the legal issues which surround the WikiWeapon project. According to Wired, he was then taken into a room and questioned, where he was told he was currently under “investigation.” His apartment was also set to be investigated by the ATF.”

  • james

    What next? Banning lathes and files/saws and steel?…ooh springs too! With a little knowledge and skill, a dedicated person could make a firearm in this manner. Let him make his gun…then charge him for unlicensed firearm manufacture, OR bring him on board and alongside an established firearm manufacturer to complement their products. Lord knows Americans don’t need more guns, though I see that if others have them then you should be able to even the odds too.
    I for one wouldn’t be happy holding and firing one. If I were to have one (unlikely as I’m in the UK) I would go for something that has been tested/proved properly.

  • Great comments from John Biggs at TechCrunch:

    “So what of this gun? There are multiple arguments against manufacturing this item and none of them hold water. First, there is legality. A gun “is a weapon that launches one or more projectile(s) at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant.” We could create a Saturday Night Special with a metal tube and a nail or we could make a gun in our basement provided it wasn’t for sale or trade. That these folks were planning on using a leased printer to build it and later release the plans is a perfectly legal action. Sharing the process for building a gun, as the Anarchist’s Cookbook shows us, is protected speech. To think otherwise is to invite chilling effects to the free distribution of information (we can argue the counter-point that if these folks were building an atomic bomb we would have every right to silence them, but atomic bombs are ostensibly illegal). But, ultimately, what they were doing wasn’t illegal.”

    …”I am, to be clear, against guns in my home but I will not begrudge any individual or group the right to experiment with 3D-printed firearms. Innovation in hardware comes from experimentation. Without it, we slog up to dead end after dead end and nothing is learned. While I disagree that a 3D printed gun is an important part of my household, I do agree that it is an important part of our right to tinker. Humans invented weapons before they invented ploughs, that much is sure. But without those weapons, we would not have expanded so far afield and into the era of agriculture.

    “Stratasys failed here. Their claims of illegality arise from fear of litigation. Had the group said nothing and just printed their parts, the Stratasys would have been none the wiser. Whether it’s a legal, financial, or moral issue, ever hacker has the right to hack and, in turn they are responsible for that they create. As Hall wrote of Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Replace “say” with “build” and we have an answer to this seemingly unsolvable conundrum.”

  • This is blown WAY out of proportion! Anyone with the skills to make a gun can do so without a 3D printer! They can use a good old fashioned cnc machine, a lathe. Or even home casting supplies to make parts via caring from metals. The uprint only prints plastics….you cannot print metal barrels, breeches or other mechanisms with a plastic printer.

    It is absurd and illogical to pull a toy making machine and call it a gun making machine. The materials made on this machine are not true industrial engineered. Materials.

    It’s more likely that Stratasys yanked the machine because public perception is that their machine was being used for apparent subversive activities and they wanted to squash the situation quickly. If he bought one, that would be a different story. They could not revoke his lease…

    • Hey Chris,

      You’re right when you mention the reliability & materials, but creating weaponry from 3D printers is here. These weapons will fire 1-2 shots before the barrel melts. As designers and “gunsmiths” work on this, I’m sure they could figure out a way to make it shoot 4-5 rounds within the next few years, or even 2-3 rounds. It wouldn’t be hard to conceal 4-5 small handguns that each fire 4-5 rounds each, wouldn’t you agree? What could a criminal do with fifteen 9mm rounds?

      When you mention CNC cutters, you are entirely right, and that field of DIY manufacturing will potentially be regulated too. (if people start getting irresponsible with DIY weaponry / potentially illegal activity) It would be much more practical to use a CNC cutter like you said, but a “plastic toy making machine” is VERY capable of being used as a gun making machine. Associating a plastic 3D printer with weaponry is NOT absurd, as it is currently here.

      I think you’re right about Stratasys taking back the machine, I agree. I’d love to talk about this when I come in the office Chris.

      Cheers,
      -Waldo

  • Wayne

    3D printers will be practically everywhere in 10-20 yrs, 20+ yrs every house would probably have one if there wasn’t one problem…. profit and the ability to make anything, only restricted by the size of your printer. Maybe nano technology will make 3D printers obsolete.

  • 3D Printers will not be in every home. The home units are toys…they are like Betty Crocker ovens. Yes kids can bake a little cake in them but they are nothing like a real oven and a real cake from a baker or even Mom.

    Production-Grade Printers will remain the sole source of viable production printing or Direct Digital Manufacturing for a very long time. Hobbysists will have printers but who will certify their materials, certify the parts they make and guarantee that the part does not snap, break or hurt someone?

    No, Home 3D Printers are a fad. There will be a hoard of them for sale on eBay used as people get rid of them after playing with them. Personally, I hope that schools buy them up on the used market and put them in classrooms everywhere!

    • Have you heard of something called the future? It’s where you find things you didn’t believe today would be there.