Files that enable the 3D printing of the Liberator pistol designed by Defense Distributed have been pulled from the group's website at the request of the US government, which has now shut the stable door days after the horse had bolted.
#DEFCAD has gone dark at the request of the Department of Defense Trade Controls. Take it up with the Secretary of State.— Defense Distributed (@DefDist) May 9, 2013
Defense Distributed's leader Cody Wilson told Forbes that the takedown request had come from the US State Department, which is concerned that the distribution of the gun's plans breaches the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and may contravene the Arms Export Control Act.
"We have to comply," Wilson said. "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."
Plans for the gun – which is made up of 16 plastic parts that can be 3D printed, a nail for a firing pin, and which is capable of firing a single round at a time – went online on Monday and have already been downloaded over 100,000 times. The gun has been shown to work and can fire a variety of calibers depending on how the barrel is constructed.
Print, point, and shoot
The group's website has now taken down the Liberator plans and replaced them with a message: "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."
That's as may be, but the plans are already up for grabs on mirror sites, including the Pirate Bay, and more are likely to spring up. Since the plans were originally hosted by the Mega service run by US-fugitive Kim Dotcom, it's also possible that some of his customers will be spamming them out – since he has somewhat of a beef with the US government.
The State Department will now review the status of the Liberator's plans as they relate to the existing legislation. A judgment is expected in the next three weeks.
"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?"
One thing's for certain: all the bans in the world won't put the 3D genie back in the bottle, no matter how many letters the US government sends out or what legislation it passes. News of the Liberator's development sent politicians into a tizzy. and New York, Washington DC and California are all planning laws to ban the gun's manufacture.
"While I am as impressed as anyone with 3-D printing technology and I believe it has amazing possibilities," said California state senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), "we must ensure that it is not used for the wrong purpose with potentially deadly consequences.
"I plan to introduce legislation that will ensure public safety and stop the manufacturing of guns that are invisible to metal detectors and that can be easily made without a background check."
El Reg suggests that before politicians start hammering their chests on the issue, they first take a deep breath and look at the facts. The Liberator requires an $8,000 printer to produce and takes around $1,000 of plastic toner to make – assuming you get it right first time. It fires a single round and, from the look of the barrel length, has a laughably short accuracy range.
By contrast, the criminally minded can easily buy a handgun (usually with no background check) for a few hundred dollars. Sure, it won't be printed, but it will be lethal over a longer distance and be capable of firing many more rounds in between reloading, making it a far more dangerous weapon.
Rather than getting hot under the collar about such a minimal threat as the Liberator, maybe the political classes might want to think about fixing the problem with old-fashioned guns before going after the futuristic ones. ®