Printing Guns: Open Source at its Limits

Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, models a 3D-printed assault rifle

On Saturday, 3D-printing organization Defense Distributed obtained a federal license to manufacture and sell 3D-printed guns. Defense Distributed first came to public attention as the center of controversy when they had their first 3D-printer confiscated by its manufacturer and Makerbot deleted their files from Thingiverse, but now they have achieved government sanction to continue their work.

Their plan—to design printable guns and release the designs for free across the internet—has caused cognitive dissonance for both the anti-patent, anti-copyright left and the libertarian right. For example, when Defense Distributed co-founder and director Cody Wilson appeared on Glenn Beck (see video below) he referenced Michel Foucault and anarchist critiques of patent, and Beck said he wasn’t sure if Wilson was “friend or foe”.

3D-printing an open design gun is a logical if extreme limit of the open source movement. If you truly want everything to be free to distribute and be made, then you want this for guns too. This puts many in a moral quandary: they don’t like guns or want more guns in the world, and an untraceable open source gun can be seen as an actively dangerous outcome of totally open 3D-printing. It forces a confrontation with the actual meaning of open source, and asks those who support it to make a choice about how far they actually follow the ideology.

Some have seen Defense Distributed actions as hijacking open source discourse toward a right wing goal: more guns, more easily available. Videos of Wilson firing printed assault rifles and the way some on the right have embraced his plan have been used as evidence toward this end. But, after watching a number of their videos and reading up on their texts, to me their commitment to open source seems genuine.

In a video released on March 11, Wilson announced the introduction of Defcad Search, a search engine for 3D-printing models that would be unblockable and totally open, a way of working around the government, industry and the “collusive members of the maker community”. In it, he states that they are against “artificial scarcity, intellectual property, copyright, patentable objects and regulation in all of its forms.” Text on points out that industry and government are going to fight hard against printable cars, pharmaceuticals, weapons, drones and medical devices. Defcad is intended to be a force (much like Pirate Bay or Bittorrent) against the encroachment of the law and monopoly.

In the video, Wilson asks “can 3D-printing be subversive? If it can, it will be because it allows us to make the important things…the things institutions and industries have an interest in keeping from us.” The utopian image projected by 3D-printing advocates often involves medical or agricultural technologies. What are the odds that, once real achievements are made in those fields, the industries that profit from such copyrights won’t attack with the same vigor that Hollywood and the music industry have attacked pirates? Monsanto already regularly sues farmers for ‘stealing’ their seeds, and pharmaceutical companies favor research on patentable medicine rather than the most vital cures. People will need sites like Defcad Search to reliably access the tools that make 3D-printing most revolutionary.

It seems possible that Defense Distributed could become just another gun manufacturer: possible, but unlikely. And if Defcad search really takes off, it will be a vital force in protecting the future of open source and the potential of 3D-printing.

This Week in Sharing: Guides to Open Source (Almost) Everything

Open education – from “Nearly every week, if not every day, there are more and more open source and open educational resources available and accessible to us. It’s impossible to ignore. It also seems impossible to keep pace with the sheer volume. Despite this, I will attempt here to give a comprehensive listing of many helpful, accessible, amazing open education resources. (There will inevitably be some left out, but here goes!)”

Open source software – from “Our mission is to provide easy access to high quality open source alternatives to well-known commercial products. And remember that open source software is also a freeware alternative.”

Top 10 Open Source Software

1. Dia
2. OpenOffice Draw
3. StarUML
4. Quanta Plus
5. Avidemux
6. Clonezilla
7. Gimpshop
8. ArgoUML
9. Cinelerra
10. FreeCAD

Open source mapping – from ” MapGuide Open Source is a web-based platform that enables users to develop and deploy web-mapping applications and geospatial web services. … MapGuide can be deployed on Linux or Windows, supports Apache and IIS web servers, and offers extensive PHP, .NET, Java, and JavaScript APIs for application development. MapGuide Open Source is licensed under the LGPL.”

From the Collective Action Toolkit. Photo credit: Frog Design. Used under Creative Commons license.

Open source design thinking – from “The Collective Action Toolkit (CAT) is a package of resources and activities that enable groups of people anywhere to organize, build trust, and collaboratively create solutions for problems impacting their community. The toolkit provides a dynamic framework that integrates knowledge and action to solve challenges. Designed to harness the benefits of group action and the power of open sharing, the activities draw on each participant’s strengths and perspectives as the group works to accomplish a common goal.”

Open source and 3D printers – from “3D printers run on simple microcontrollers – many of them based on the open Arduino hacker platform — and are controlled by desktop PCs like any other printer. Almost all the open source printers — and almost none of the proprietary designs – support Linux desktops, in addition to Windows and Mac. … Ten of the 15 desktop models on Make’s 3D printer review page are open source.”

Open source travel – from“WikiSherpa is a mash-up of Wikivoyage, Wikipedia, and OpenStreetMap, the open-source world map. Use it to search for the latest destination guides, save them to your phone, download maps, and plot the guide’s sights, hotels, etc. on them — even while offline — for free!”

And… the zombie apocalypse – from “The modern zeitgeist is obsessed with zombies. In the past decade, 439 zombie-themed films were made, as compared to only 65 in the previous decade. … Could this fascination be the harbinger of impending zombie apocalypse? After all, even the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a zombie preparedness guide. What do they know about a possible zombie virus that we don’t?”