Defense Distributed

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Defense Distributed
DD Rings Black
Type of site
Open source digital publishing
LaunchedJuly 27, 2012 (2012-07-27)
Current statusActive

Defense Distributed is an online open-source hardware[1] organization that develops digital schematics of firearms in CAD files, or "wiki weapons",[3][4][5] that may be downloaded from the Internet and used in 3D printing or CNC milling applications.[3] Among the organization's goals is to develop and freely publish firearms-related design schematics that can be downloaded and reproduced by anyone with a 3D printer or milling machine, facilitating the popular production of ghost guns.[6][7]

The company is best known for developing and releasing the files for the Liberator, the world's first completely 3D printed gun.[8][9] On May 5, 2013, Defense Distributed made these printable STL files public,[10] and within days the United States Department of State demanded they be removed from the Internet, citing a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.[11][12]

On May 6, 2015, Defense Distributed, joined by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), brought suit against the Department of State in the Western District of Texas, which denied its preliminary injunction request. It subsequently appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which affirmed the denial, and then the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.[13][14][15]

On July 10, 2018 it was announced that Defense Distributed and Second Amendment Foundation had accepted a settlement offer from the Department of State, effectively winning the case and restarting their work.[16][17] On July 27, Defense Distributed released ten CAD files for download at DEFCAD before Western Washington District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik subsequently issued an order on July 31 suspending the settlement and halting further release of the company's files.[18][19] Multiple lawsuits are currently filed by state governments and Defense Distributed seeking to challenge or uphold this settlement.



After raising US$20,000 via a suspended crowd-funding appeal,[20][3][7] suffering the confiscation of its first 3D printer,[21] and partnering with private manufacturing firms,[22] the organization began live fire testing of the first generation of printable firearms in December 2012.[23][24]

In its first year of operation the organization produced a durable printed receiver for the AR-15,[25][26][27] the first printed standard capacity AR-15 magazine,[28][29][30] and the first printed magazine for the AK-47.[31][32] These 3D printable files were available for download at the organization's publishing site DEFCAD,[33] but are now largely hosted on file sharing websites.[34][35]

The organization has been predominantly represented in public since July 2012 by Cody Wilson, who is described as a founder and spokesperson.[5][36]


According to the Defense Distributed website, the nonprofit is organized and operated for charitable and literary purposes, specifically "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."[1][22]

The organization’s motivations have been described as "less about [a] gun... than about democratizing manufacturing technology,"[37] In an interview with Slashdot, Cody Wilson described the Wiki Weapon project as a chance to "experiment with Enlightenment ideas… to literally materialize freedom.”[38]

At Bitcoin 2012 in London, Wilson explained the organization as interested in inspiring libertarian forms of social organization and technologically driven inversions of authority.[39]


In December 2012, as a response to Makerbot Industries' decision[40][41][42] to remove firearms-related 3D printable files at the popular repository Thingiverse, Defense Distributed launched a companion site at to publicly host the removed 3D printable files and its own.[43][44][45] Public and community submissions to DEFCAD rose quickly,[33][45][46] and in March 2013, at the SXSW Interactive festival, Wilson announced a repurposed and expanded DEFCAD as a separate entity that would serve as a 3D search engine and development hub, while maintaining the spirit of access endemic to Defense Distributed.[47][48][49] The new DEFCAD was deemed "The Pirate Bay of 3D Printing"[50] and "the anti-Makerbot"[49] even before its launch, provided an index of over 100,000 files.[51]

Ghost Gunner[edit]

In October 2014, Defense Distributed began selling to the public a miniature CNC mill for completing receivers for the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.[52] For a review of the machine in Wired, Andy Greenberg manufactured a series of lowers and called the machine "absurdly easy to use."[53]


Legal history[edit]

Defense Distributed was seeking 501(c)(3) federal tax exemption [5][22][54] but they abandoned their application after being denied by the IRS.[55]

The organization operates to publish intellectual property and information developed by licensed firearms manufacturers and the public.[22]

Cody Wilson has a Type 7 Federal Firearms License (FFL).[56][57]

Legal challenges[edit]

Stratasys confiscation[edit]

Learning of Defense Distributed's plans in 2012, manufacturer Stratasys, Ltd threatened legal action and demanded the return of the 3D printer it had leased to Wilson.[21] On September 26, before the printer was assembled for use, Wilson received an email from Stratasys suggesting that he might use the printer "for illegal purposes".[21] Stratasys immediately canceled its lease with Wilson and sent a team to confiscate the printer the next day.[21][24] Wilson was subsequently questioned by the ATF when visiting an ATF field office in Austin, Texas to inquire about legalities and regulations relating to the Wiki Weapons project.[21]

The Undetectable Firearms Act[edit]

Defense Distributed's efforts have prompted renewed discussion and examination of the Undetectable Firearms Act.[5][57][58][59] The Liberator pistol was cited in White House and Congressional calls to renew the Act in 2013.[60][61]

International Traffic in Arms Regulations[edit]

Letter from the United States Department of State to Defense Distributed (May 8, 2013).

On May 9, 2013, The United States Department of State Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) directed Defense Distributed to remove the download links to its publicly accessible CAD files.[62] The State Department's letter, likely prompted by the Liberator Pistol, referenced § 127.1 of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), interpreting the regulations to impose a prior approval requirement on publication of Defense Distributed's files into the public domain,[63] a legal position noted at the time to suffer from First and Second Amendment infirmities.[63][64]

On May 6, 2015, Defense Distributed filed a Constitutional challenge against the State Department in the Western District of Texas, suing government agents within the DDTC and accusing the government of knowingly violating the company's First, Second, and Fifth amendment liberties.[13][14] Defense Distributed was joined in its suit by the Second Amendment Foundation.[14]

In August 2015, the District Court for Western Texas in Austin denied Defense Distributed's preliminary injunction request.[65] In September 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit similarly ruled against Defense Distributed and subsequently denied an en banc hearing request.[66] A petition was filed with the Supreme Court in August 2017[67] which was denied on January 8, 2018.[15]

Peer-to-peer torrent sites and other repositories continue to host Defense Distributed and other firearms CAD files.[68][11][12]

On July 10, 2018, Wired magazine published the news that Defense Distributed and SAF had accepted a settlement offer from the Department of State.[16] Cody Wilson explained his intention to immediately relaunch DEFCAD and begin the work of digitizing popular firearms for public consumption.[16]

State of Washington et al v. United States Department of State et al[edit]

However several states sued to enjoin this settlement, citing "irreparable harm if the [firearm CAD files] are published on the internet."[69] Defense Distributed countersued, citing unlawful prior restraint and an absence of statutory basis for an injunction.[70][71] A temporary restraining order was issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik on July 31, 2018.[72] Nonetheless, the files remain available on other websites, including Reddit and major torrent sites, and have been downloaded over 100,000 times.[73] The case is currently pending before the court, awaiting replies and counter-replies to responses to the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.[74]


Defense Distributed has been obliquely endorsed by the Gun Owners of America (GOA).[75][failed verification] However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has offered - to date - no public comment on the organization or its activities.

Open source software advocate Eric S. Raymond has endorsed the organization and its efforts, calling Defense Distributed "friends of freedom" and writing "I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolize the use of force. As 3D printers become less expensive and more ubiquitous, this could be a major step in the right direction."[76][77]

Aaron Timms of Blouin News has written Defense Distributed has performed “the greatest piece of political performance art of [the 21st] century.”,[78]

For its activities, Defense Distributed has been accused of endangering public safety and attempting to frustrate and alter the US system of government.[79][80] However, critics have also noted that Defense Distributed has merely offered the means of production back to the masses in a way not too dissimilar from the effect the printing press had on the spread of information and the decentralization of power in societies.[81]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "About Us". Defense Distributed. Archived from the original on December 21, 2012. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  2. ^ "Defense Distributed". Defense Distributed. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
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  4. ^ Bilton, Nick (October 7, 2012). "Disruptions: With a 3-D Printer, Building a Gun With the Push of a Button". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
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  6. ^ Hobbyist builds working assault rifle using 3D printer
  7. ^ a b Poeter, Damon (August 24, 2012). "Could a 'Printable Gun' Change the World?". PC Magazine. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
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  9. ^ Morelle, Rebecca (May 6, 2013). "Working gun made with 3D printer". BBC News. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  10. ^ Hutchinson, Lee. "The first entirely 3D-printed handgun is here". Ars Technica. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "3D-printed gun blueprints pulled from Internet, at request of State Department". CBS News. May 10, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Nozowitz, Dan. "U.S. State Department Tells Defense Distributed To Take Down 3-D Printed Gun Plans". Popular Science. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  13. ^ a b Feuer, Alan (May 6, 2015). "Cody Wilson, Who Posted Gun Instructions Online, Sues State Department". The New York Times. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  14. ^ a b c Greenberg, Andy (May 6, 2015). "3-D Printed Gun Lawsuit Starts the War Between Arms Control and Free Speech". Wired. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  15. ^ a b "Search - Supreme Court of the United States". Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Greenberg, Andy (July 10, 2018). "A Landmark Legal Shift Opens Pandora's Box for DIY Guns". Wired. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  17. ^ Farivar, Cyrus. "Defense Distributed Settlement Agreement". Retrieved July 17, 2018 – via Ars Technica.
  18. ^ "US judge blocks release of blueprints for 3D printed guns". the Guardian. Associated Press. August 1, 2018. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  19. ^ "Post-Cody Wilson's arrest, few know what's up with his company or legal efforts". Ars Technica. September 22, 2018.
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  23. ^ Beckhusen, Robert (December 3, 2012). "3-D Printed Gun Only Lasts 6 Shots". Wired. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
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  25. ^ Beckhusen, Robert (February 28, 2013). "Watch the New and Improved Printable Gun Spew Hundreds of Bullets". Wired. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  26. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (March 1, 2013). ""Download this gun": 3D-printed semi-automatic fires over 600 rounds". Ars Technica. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  27. ^ Biggs, John (March 1, 2013). "Defense Distributed Prints An AR-15 Receiver That Has Fired More Than 600 Rounds". TechCrunch. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  28. ^ Greenberg, Andy (January 14, 2013). "Gunsmiths 3D-Print High Capacity Ammo Clips To Thwart Proposed Gun Laws". Forbes Online. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  29. ^ Franzen, Carl (February 7, 2013). "Defense Distributed Unveils New 3D Printed Gun Magazine 'Cuomo' (VIDEO)". Talking Points Memo. Archived from the original on February 11, 2013. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  30. ^ Beckhusen, Robert (February 8, 2013). "New 3-D Printed Rifle Magazine Lets You Fire Hundreds of Rounds". Wired Danger Room. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  31. ^ Ingersoll, Geoffrey (March 8, 2013). "3D Printing Company Names AK-47 Magazine After Gun Control Congresswoman". Business Insider. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  32. ^ Branson, Michael (April 8, 2013). "Defense Distributed Releases Printable AK Magazine". The Firearm Blog. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
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  35. ^ Ernesto. "Pirate Bay Takes Over Distribution of Censored 3D Printable Gun". TorrentFreak. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
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  39. ^ "Bitcoin2012 London". Retrieved October 6, 2012.
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  42. ^ Pepitone, Julianne (December 20, 2012). "3-D printer MakerBot cracks down on blueprints for gun parts". CNN Money. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
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  50. ^ "'Pirate Bay' for 3D printing launched". BBC News. March 12, 2013. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  51. ^ "". DEFCAD. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  52. ^ Greenberg, Andy (October 1, 2015). "The $1,200 Machine That Lets Anyone Make a Metal Gun at Home". Wired. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  53. ^ Greenberg, Andy (June 3, 2015). "I Made an Untraceable AR-15 'Ghost Gun' in My Office—And It Was Easy". Wired. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  54. ^ Coldewey, Devin (October 2, 2012). "3-D printed gun project derailed by legal woes". NBC News. Archived from the original on October 2, 2012. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  55. ^ Sumagaysay, Levi (July 11, 2018). "3D-printed guns: Settlement paves way for DIY weapons". The Mercury News. Austin, TX. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  56. ^ "US grants first license to sell 3D-printed guns". Daily Mail. March 18, 2013. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  57. ^ a b LeJacq, Yannick (December 10, 2012). "Defense Distributed's 'Wiki Weapon': U.S. Congressman Steve Israel Offers First Legislative Challenge". Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  58. ^ Hsu, Jeremy (December 10, 2012). "3D-Printable Guns Face Federal Ban". Mashable. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
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  63. ^ a b Morris, Kevin (September 27, 2013). "The Liberator: Cody Wilson's armed for a free speech battle". ValleyWag. Retrieved May 16, 2014.
  64. ^ Goldstein, Matthew (June 15, 2013). "Department of State Confirms Prior Approval Requirement for Electronic Exports to Public Domain in Case of 3D-Printable Gun". Thomson Reuters Practical Trade & Customs Strategies. Thomson Reuters. 2 (11): 3–6. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  65. ^ Doherty, Brian (August 7, 2015). "Defense Distributed Injunction Request Denied in Suppression of Gun-Related Internet Speech Case". Wired. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  66. ^ "Defense Distributed, of 3D-Printed Gun Fame, Requests Rehearing on Denial of Its Injunction Against the State Department for Crushing Its Free Speech Rights". November 7, 2016. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
  67. ^ "Can a Court Arbitrarily Conclude That 'Security' Overrules the First Amendment?". August 14, 2017. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
  68. ^ Greenberg, Andy (May 9, 2013). "State Department Demands Takedown Of 3D-Printable Gun Files For Possible Export Control Violations". Forbes. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  69. ^ . Text
  70. ^ "8 states take aim at 3D gun company, sue to get files off the Internet". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
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  72. ^ "3D-printed gun website yanks CAD files after federal judicial order". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  73. ^ "Defense Distributed Takes 3D Gun Plans Offline, But They Can Be Found Here". August 1, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  74. ^ Washington v. State (Docket Report), No. 2:18-cv-01115, W.D.W.A., July 30, 2018
  75. ^ Rosenwald, Michael (February 18, 2013). "Weapons made with 3-D printers could test gun-control efforts". The Washington Post.
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External links[edit]