The online blueprints for a fully functional 3D-printed gun have disappeared faster than a speeding bullet.
On Wednesday, the State Department ordered the company that posted the schematics, Defense Distributed, to remove them from the web. (Watch a Defense Distributed video explaining the gun above.) According to the State Department, publicly posting the instructions may have violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which governs the "transfer of, and access to" certain weapons and their technical details. By posting the files to the web where anyone in the world could download them, the company may have inadvertently violated those export restrictions.
"Please note that disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad, is considered an export," the State Department stated in a letter.
However, the State Department did not say that the instructions must remain offline for good. Rather, the department asked that Defense Distributed file the necessary paperwork for the government to determine if the blueprints are, in fact, a violation of ITAR. In the meantime, State wrote, the company "should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled."
That letter came just two days after Defense Distributed, through its open-source printing project DEFCAD, posted the instructions for its "Liberator" handgun to the Internet. In just three days, the instructions had already been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
Here's how it works, according to The Guardian:
Fifteen of the gun's 16 pieces are constructed on the $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer, Forbes said. The final piece is a common nail, used as a firing pin, that can be found in a hardware store. [Guardian]
"We have to comply," the company's founder, Cody Wilson, 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."
And indeed, by Thursday evening, the webpage to download the instructions had been updated with the following message: "This file has been 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."
Still, the federal order does not mean all copies of the blueprints have been be wiped from the web. The instructions have been posted to the file-sharing sites Pirate Bay and Mega, among others, meaning they're still available for download.
Wilson, who claims to have been inspired by anarchist writings, himself made that point in an interview Thursday with Betabeat, saying he thought he would ultimately be free from the government's oversight.
"I still think we win in the end," he said. "Because the files are all over the Internet, the Pirate Bay has it — to think this can be stopped in any meaningful way is to misunderstand what the future of distributive technologies is about."
Lawmakers at the state and federal level have already moved to ban printable firearms.
In California, Democratic state Senator Leland Yee said in a press release that he would soon introduce a bill to ban weapons that "are invisible to metal detectors and that can be easily made without a background check." At the federal level, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have likewise called for legislation to ban such firearms.
"A terrorist, someone who's mentally ill, a spousal abuser, a felon can essentially open a gun factory in their garage," Schumer said recently.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Here comes the Pentagon's newest space plane
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- How foreign aid screwed up Liberia's ability to fight Ebola
- The U.S. is about to sell weapons to Vietnam. That's bad news for China.
- Let us now praise Billy Joel
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
- Extreme haunted houses: Inside Halloween's most terrifying new trend
Subscribe to the Week