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Government requests 3-D printed gun files taken down pending review

The files necessary for making a copy of the world's first fully 3-D printed gun have been taken down from the creator's website at the request of the U.S. State Department — but are already available by other means.

The Liberator, as the gun is called, is assembled from 16 pieces of plastic, all of which can be made using a 3-D printer and files downloaded from the Internet. Only the firing pin and a piece of metal to make the gun easily detectable must be found elsewhere — and the bullets, of course.

Since being released earlier this week, the 3-D models of the gun pieces have been downloaded over 100,000 times — but a visit to Defcad.org, the site run by 3-D gun creator Cody Wilson, now shows this 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.

The reason for the takedown is that the State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance wants to check the files "for compliance with arms export control laws," according to a letter Defense Distributed provided to Forbes.

Wilson, a law student, is federally licensed to manufacture and sell guns and gun parts, as long as they're not fully automatic. Not only is it legal for Wilson (or any licensed maker of firearms) to make the Liberator, but distributing its plans for others to make it is also legal, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But because the files are being distributed outside United States borders, other, stricter regulations may come into play.

Two views of the 3-D model file comprising the Liberator's frame.Defense Distributed

If the goal was to stop the proliferation of the printed gun's component files, however, the takedown is already a failure. Supporters of the project are already setting up backups and distributing the files via other means, including BitTorrent, which requires no central server and cannot be shut down with a government request.

Wilson, who has led the Defense Distributed project and been its public face over the last year, did not respond to inquiries from NBC News, but indicated to Forbes that he and the company intend to comply with all government requests. But he also said he hoped it would spark a conversation: "Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of Internet and 3-D printing?"

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.