It wasn't quite heard around the world, but the shot fired by The Liberator, the plastic gun that University of Texas law student Cody Wilson designed and fabricated using a 3-D printer, was witnessed by a lot of people. It proved beyond a doubt that the gun works.
What people are still trying to figure out is what it means to be living in an age in which anyone can simply print a gun. Some have responded by penning doom-and-gloom opinion pieces and scrambling to ban the weapons. More people -- some 100,000 -- went to their computers and downloaded the design files Wilson had posted for free online through his company, Defense Distributed.
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The Obama administration is not happy. Mother Jones reports today that Defense Distributed removed the file today at the request of the U.S. State Department. The letter to Wilson alleged that the company's file-sharing services violated the terms of the Arms Export Control Act.
Lawmakers obviously weren't thinking of manufacturing instructions for plastic handguns when they passed the law. Their focus was more on geopolitics and how best to control the flow of weapons to foreign governments and other actors overseas. But its use hasn't been limited to large-scale arms transactions. A college professor was sentenced to four years in prison in 2009 for sharing technical data on reducing drag on airplane wings and drones with foreign graduate students.
Wilson has decided not to test the government, not yet anyways. But he hints that the design will make it back online, just not anytime soon.
"I don't like it -- but I do think that it actually ends up helping the message of the project a little more, that, look, in the end we're going to be having a fight about what it means to be controlling information," he told Mother Jones.