March 18, 2013 at 4:18 PM ET
The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has issued a license to a group that wants to manufacture a 3-D printed gun.
Defense Distributed, a loosely organized group that wants to create weapons mostly using 3-D printed parts — and provide the files for anyone else to to do so online — shared the news on its Facebook and Tumblr pages over the weekend, exclaiming, "Look who has a license to manufacture firearms."
Creating a printable gun is the project of Defense Distributed, an effort headed by Cody Wilson, who on his public Facebook page is described as an "American crypto-anarchist," a law student at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin and founder and director of Defense Distributed. (He pretty much IS the group.) The organization, he says, "develops and publishes open source gun designs, so-called "Wiki Weapons," suitable for 3-D printing."
3-D printing is still in its infancy, and some of its more notable efforts so far have been for medical, space and scientific projects, including helping repair broken bones and building spacecraft parts, as well as commercial efforts including athletic shoes.
In its FAQ, in answer to the question "Why guns?" Defense Distributed says on its site:
If we truly believe information should be free, that the Internet is the last bastion of freedom and knowledge, and that societies that share are superior to societies that censor and withhold, then why not guns?
Freedom of information has material, decentralizing consequences. And this is a good thing.
... Every judicially protected civil liberty can be abused. That protection, that abuse, has real social cost. But is degree of social cost the calculus for protecting civil rights? That is absurd. When we say universal access to the firearm, we mean it.
Among Defense Distributed's creations are a 3-D printed magazine for an AK-47 assault rifle, with the magazine named for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading advocate for a ban on assault weapons.
ATF spokeswoman Donna Sellers told NBC News Monday that Defense Distributed received a "Type 7" license that allows the manufacturing of firearms, a decision made after the bureau "collaborated with law enforcement and the firearms industry."
However, she said, the license "does not include manufacturing of automatic firearms," and if Defense Distributed wants to make an automatic weapon, it will need to apply for another license to the ATF. Wilson told Ars Technica over the weekend he has applied for that license.