How to Stop Downloadable Guns from Becoming a Dangerous Reality

If you're not worried, you're not paying attention.

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(Image credit: Everytown + Bridget Burns)

Editor's note: On the evening of Tuesday, July 31, a federal judge ruled to block the settlement that would have allowed Defense Distributed to publish the blueprints to create 3-D-printed guns. The issue will return to court at the end of August and Defense Distributed has temporarily shut down its site until further notice. However, the fight is still not over.

Even though an average of 96 Americans are killed every single day by gun violence (the number has continued to rise since 2016), the United States is still divided over the non-partisan commitment to human life—a concept that has once again taken a backseat in the Trump administration. And for people who are pro-humans remaining alive, things are about to get a lot more sickening: Unless serious action is taken, on August 1 (tomorrow), Americans will legally have access to downloadable instructions on how to make 3-D-printed, untraceable guns as powerful as an AR-15—the same weapon that killed 17 students and faculty less than six months ago in Parkland, Florida—and other variations of the firearm.

Since there would be no background checks, no serial numbers, no way of knowing who is creating these 3-D-printed guns, it would be impossible to know which and how many weapons are getting into the hands of minors, felons, terrorists, domestic abusers, and people who suffer from mental illness. The plastic guns can even pass through a metal detector because, well, they're plastic. On August 1, Defense Distributed claims, "The age of the downloadable gun formally begins."


(Image credit: AFP)

Defense Distributed, a Texas-based online organization founded by 30-year-old self-proclaimed anarchist Cody Wilson, began distributing its plans to create guns through a 3-D printer in 2013. The first plan was released for a 3-D-printed handgun Wilson called, "The Liberator." It was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times before the U.S. Department of State, under the Obama administration, eventually blocked the site, citing a violation of the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that states you cannot distribute weapons without a license.

In 2015, Wilson sued the government claiming his First and Second Amendment rights were violated. After battling back and forth, the Trump administration abruptly settled the suit in June—allowing Wilson to continue legally posting the plans online, beginning August 1. According to The New York Times, which received a copy of the settlement from Wilson, "It states that 3-D printing tutorials are approved 'for public release (i.e. unlimited distribution) in any form.'" On top of putting the lives of innocent Americans in danger, the U.S. government paid for $40,000 worth of Wilson's legal fees.

Wilson isn't dumb. He knows exactly what he's doing. A few weeks ago, he tweeted a picture (below) of a gravestone with the words "American Gun Control" on it, representing the death of gun control in the United States. This is not only a disgrace to every person who has a friend's or family member's name on a gravestone as a result of gun violence—it's a disgrace to every person who believes they are somehow afforded the privilege to walk safely down the street, eat dinner in a restaurant, go to a concert, and not have to think twice about whether or not somebody is going to pull an unregistered gun out of their pocket.

Defense Distributed has already begun to publish the 3-D guns plans online, and time is running out to do something about it. President Donald Trump tweeted this morning, 24 hours before Wilson is legally allowed to distribute the plans, that a 3-D-printed gun "doesn’t seem to make much sense!" after he spoke to the National Rifle Association (NRA). But make no mistake—the reason printable arms suddenly doesn't seem to make much sense to Trump and the NRA is because the pro-guns organization will lose millions of dollars when Americans decide to make their own weapons instead of purchasing them. Trump and the NRA are not focused on the lives of the American people, they are focused on their bank accounts. reached out to Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action—the grassroots arm of Everytown, a non-profit dedicated to common-sense gun reform (one of the three organizations, along with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, that recently attempted to block the decision in a Texas court), to help educate the public about what they can do to stop downloadable, plastic guns from becoming our new normal. Here's what she recommends:

What can I do before August 1 to stop the downloadable gun plans from being distributed on the internet?

"There was originally a court agreement that the plans wouldn't be available until August 1, but that agreement was violated and they started distributing the gun files on Friday. We're encouraging Americans to text the letters 'OMG' to 64433—that connects you immediately to the state department. Close to 150,000 people have already done so. The more noise we make and the more we show our outrage about this dereliction on behalf of our government, the more likely we are to get a response.

At this point, we have to demand that the president and the state department fix this mess. It's completely within their purview to do so. We can do that by demanding the administration take action immediately, and we need state legislators to pass laws to stop this."

How can I take action after August 1?

"We need everyone to put pressure on the Trump administration and on our lawmakers to fix this. Call whoever represents you in Congress in the state you live in [you can find your rep's contact info here or here] and let them know that this is not acceptable and that you're holding them accountable for acting on this issue."

If I don't live in one of the states that has already filed lawsuits against the Trump administration, what should I do?

"You can put pressure on your state's attorney general to follow suit, but what we really need to be doing is putting pressure on the Trump administration and our lawmakers to act."

Since the plans have already started to make their way onto the internet, is there really hope to get them taken down?

"Absolutely. Donald Trump referenced that in his tweet this morning and implied that's being considered. In the meantime, we have several senators who are putting forward legislation [to rid the internet of the plans]—The 3D-Printed Gun Safety Act of 2018, The Untraceable Firearms Act of 2018, and the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act of 2018."

How can I continue to stay updated about the progress of stopping downloadable guns?

"You can join our organization, Moms Demand Action, by texting 'JOIN' to 64433. People need to understand the dangers of downloadable guns. They'll undermine the work of law enforcement, they'll make guns undetectable by metal detectors, they'll allow someone to own a gun without a background check, and they'll be completely outside of the licensed dealer system. Ultimately, it puts guns in the hands of dangerous people. We already have that problem in this country, and this will just exacerbate it. Our number one priority right now is getting this decision reversed."

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Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.