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Defense Distributed’s 3D-printed gun files are back online

But only for US residents... officially

TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-WEAPONS Photo by Kelly West / AFP / Getty Images

3D-printed firearms company Defcad has released a trove of gun-making blueprints, only to approved US residents. According to The Wall Street Journal, Defcad is selling access for a $50 annual fee, which director Cody Wilson describes as a “Netflix for guns” model.

The company has temporarily released blueprints before. Under the Obama administration, the plan ran afoul of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) rules that prevent exporting weapons abroad. The Trump administration offered significantly more leeway, but its approval has been tied up in legal battles. Now, Wilson tells the Journal that he’s vetting everyone who wants to access the files, using geolocation and other technical measures to ensure they’re located in the US.

Defcad’s library (created as part of the broader Defense Distributed project) offered 3,680 files at launch and plans to add thousands more, although the Journal notes that some are already in the public domain. Its terms of use forbid prominent critics from accessing the system, including law enforcement agencies in several states as well as news outlet The Trace, which focuses on reporting gun violence.

Among other things, the files could let users 3D-print plastic guns without serial numbers — a possibility that has worried gun control advocates and some state attorneys general since it could make the guns more difficult to detect and trace. The practical effects of this new system, however, are unclear. Defcad previously evaded the ban by mailing gun files to customers, and its blueprints were downloaded thousands of times when they appeared online in 2018, so they’ve been circulating for some time.

The vetting system may not be technically airtight either, even if Wilson describes it as “impervious” to legal challenge. He acknowledges that a user could download files and share them with someone else. But he contends that “it’s not quite living in reality to assume that you can 100 percent secure information that’s online.”