Ghost Guns: Battles in the Court System

Ghost guns have been at the forefront of the news in the firearms community for several years. The guns are manufactured by gunsmiths and hobbyists in their homes or businesses. Lawmakers object to the manufacture and ownership of ghost guns and are putting a lot of effort into banning them across the U.S.

What is a Ghost Gun?

Ghost guns are firearms that do not have serial numbers and are untraceable. Courts are battling against whether the manufacture and purchase of ghost guns is legal. Serial numbers cannot be removed from guns as it is illegal however it is legal to make and/or own a gun without a serial number. Ghost guns include homemade guns regardless of the material used: metal 3D-printed plastic or other material. Owners may not legally sell ghost guns without applying for a serial number. Laws do not prohibit the ownership of the weapons based on the Second Amendment.

Defense Distributed

Defense Distributed is the online open-source hardware organization that creates digital schematics of weapons in CAD files also referred to as wiki weapons." The files can be downloaded off the Internet and used to manufacture firearms through 3-D printing or CNC mills. Cody Wilson founder of Defense Distributed is credited with creating the Liberator the worlds first 3-D printed gun.

Wilson is a gun activist and crypto-anarchist that has pushed the envelope when it comes to the right to bear arms. He has been involved in many court battles over his projects including the release of blueprints for printing firearms as well as the sale of Ghost Gunner a mini CNC mill designed specifically for printing guns.

The company based in Austin Texas defines its vision statement: to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court through facilitating global access to and the collaborative production of information and knowledge related to the 3D printing of arms; and to publish and distribute... such information and knowledge in promotion of the public interest.

Cody Wilson

Cody Wilson is the face of the battle against the manufacture and ownership although he is not singled out by name in any of the court cases brought against Defense Distributed. Wilson founded and operated Defense Distributed from 2012 until 2018. He resigned from the company in September 2018 after being arrested in Taiwan for sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl he met online. Despite Wilsons absence Defense Distributed intends to continue its battle to distribute DIY blueprints for 3-D weapons. Paloma Heindorff the organizations new director told reporters that nothing would change despite Wilsons absence.

I am extremely proud to say that over the past few days the entire team at Defense Distributed have recommitted to enabling the sharing and publication of CAD and 3-D printing files.  

Legal Troubles

In August 2012 Defense Distributed initiated the Wiki Weapon Project. Wilson wanted to raise $20000 to design and publish blueprints for a plastic gun created with an open-source 3D printer. Gunsmiths and hobbyists will be able to use the blueprints to create an operational weapon capable of firing a standard .22 cal bullet. Stratasys the manufacturer of Wilsons 3-D printer learned about the project and immediately canceled their lease contract. The printer was immediately confiscated.

Wilson didnt set out to break any laws in fact he visited the Austin office of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATFE) to ask about the laws relating to his project. He was issued a Federal Firearms License (FFL) six months later.

In May 2013 Wilson posted the blueprints for the Liberator on the Defense Distributed website. The State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance ordered Wilson to remove the files stating that he was violating International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

In May 2015 Defense Distributed along with the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) filed suit against the Department of State for violating their First Amendment rights to free speech. They lost the case and appealed to the Fifth Circuit. They attempted to take the case to the Supreme Court but the court refused to hear the case.

In July 2018 Defense Distributed and SAF accepted a settlement from the Department of State and resumed their work. Western Washington District Court Judge Robert Lasnik immediately issued an order suspending the settlement and demanded the release of the organizations files. Defense Distributed continues their work while lawsuits are pending from multiple state governments.

Other Sources

Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed may be viewed as the pioneers of the wiki weapons movement but they are not the only game in town. Several other manufacturers exist and despite negative legal findings state they will continue with the work in the spirit of the Second Amendment.

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