The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Cody Wilson – Has the Liberator Met its Maker?

Cody Wilson Began His Revolution With Ones and Zeros, the U.S. Government Fought Back With Red Tape.

Photos by Schultz Photography

According to Wired, this guy is the fifth most dangerous person on the internet. He and his company, Defense Distributed, caused Uncle Sam some heartburn back in May 2013 when it released the Liberator project.

The Defense Distributed Liberator grew out of Wilson’s wiki weapons project. It’s named after the .45-caliber, WWII-era, FP-45 Liberator. The original gun was more a tool of psychological rather than actual warfare. It was a small, inexpensive pistol meant to be air dropped en masse into Axis occupied territory. The idea was to sink Jerry’s morale by making him wonder if every civilian might be an armed, insurgent threat.

Wilson’s Liberator differs from the original in a few ways, the most important being DD’s Liberator isn’t a gun. It’s an idea. Sure, the end result is a 3D-printed, single-shot, .380 ACP pistol. But, the gun itself isn’t what moved the U.S. State Department to action. It was DD’s free and open distribution of the instructions and files, giving anyone with a 3D printer the ability to manufacture a pistol, that locked the two in a years-long legal battle.

What’s the basis of the fight? It depends whom you ask. The government might say it’s about the protection of American strategic interests through the regulation of exportable weapon technology. Wilson might say it’s about a government restricting the flow of information that threatens its ability to control its citizenry. Yet, spectators will argue the U.S. Constitution’s First and Second Amendment are very much at stake.

Wilson’s new book, Come and Take It, is a sort of journal describing the ideas and events that led to the release of the Liberator. The journey spans continents, social movements, and technological horizons. Left wing, right ring, anarchists, capitalists, politicians, bureaucrats, and the media are all forces Wilson has to navigate and marshal in order to bring about his vision of a free society through technology.

Cody is 28, grew up outside Little Rock, Arkansas, has a girlfriend and no Southern accent. He was student body president in high school, a member of the varsity track team, and drives a Ford Edge.

 

Wilson displays his experience and his motivations for his controversial project in his new book, Come and Take It: The Gun Printer's Guide to Thinking Free.

Wilson displays his experience and his motivations for his controversial project in his new book, Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free.

RECOIL: So, your book is out; what’s happened since it was published?

Cody Wilson: Two days after [the Liberator] was released, the government was like, “F@#k no. This ain’t getting released,” and we’ve been in a fight ever since.

What’s the government’s argument?

CW: It was the State Department through what’s called the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC). They did what they did in the 1990s with encryption. They were like, “Naw, the public can’t just have this,” and so under the tissue-thin justification of export law, they made the novel argument that posting the plans for a gun on the internet were the same thing as exporting those plans to foreign nationals.

They sent what’s called a directed disclosure letter or a directed disclosure request. They were like, “This may have violated International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). You have to remove all these files while we decide if you’ve violated ITAR.” I was like, “What the hell?” I wasn’t in a position at that time to fight because penalties are huge. Penalties are like millions of dollars for every violation. I mean, it’s bad. Each foreign download can count as a violation, so they already had me by the balls. All I had time for was to scramble to get a lawyer in the 30 days they gave me to respond.

… and your response?

CW: I ended up taking all the files down. Then in the intervening years, I waited for the State Department to make a decision about whether I violated ITAR. At first I waited six months. Then I waited a year. Then I ended up waiting three years. They didn’t make a decision, and I realized, “Oh, yeah, it’s pointless for them to make a decision.” They were just going to keep me off the internet.

So we tried to get an injunction against the government because the government argues, “This is exporting defense information. You can’t just post it on the internet.” Then we go, “Oh, what are you talking about? This is privately generated, unclassified stuff. We have a freedom of speech interest.”

Who’s funding your defense?

CW: I am, but in fact it’s not a defense. I’m the one who brought the challenge. The government is the defense, and I’m an appellant. At the end of 2014, I started a new company and a new product, called Ghost Gunner, with the purpose of making enough money to begin a lawsuit against the State Department to fight and prove out the Liberator in court.

Tell us a little about Ghost Gunner.

CW: We sell a CNC machine that finishes 80-percent receivers for both AR-15 and 308s, and we’re working on the 1911 pistol frame. We’ve shipped almost 3,000 in the last couple of years. We’ve done millions in revenue, and funded this huge lawsuit.

Defense Distributed's Ghost Gunner 2 is a $1,500 desktop CNC mill designed to complete aluminum 80% AR-15 lowers. DD is working on code that'll allow the device to finish 80% AR-10 and 80% 1911 receivers, as well.

Defense Distributed’s Ghost Gunner 2 is a $1,500 desktop CNC mill designed to complete aluminum 80% AR-15 lowers. DD is working on code that’ll allow the device to finish 80% AR-10 and 80% 1911 receivers, as well.

Where does the fight over the project stand today?

CW: We started in Western District last year. The first thing we did strategically was to ask for a preliminary injunction against the government. We did that so we wouldn’t have to have the whole trial at the lower level and let the judge just mangle everything. We pushed on with our facial challenge so that we can get an appellate court like the Fifth Circuit court of appeals, to say, “OK, these are the constitutional issues. These are what issues will control them,” then basically force the government to settle by solving the constitutional issues real quick.

But, it’s been two years, and they won’t talk about the merits because it’s too scary. They don’t like the merits. Amazingly, the Fifth Circuit was just like, “Well, we don’t have to talk about the merits. It’s just procedural. We don’t think the government has exceeded its discretion so far, so we’re not going to give an injunction.”

Two years in court and the government would only address procedural concerns instead of the free speech issue? Now what?

CW: I can appeal en banc because we got a monster dissent. It’s a split decision, and the majority is very meek in their opinion. I think we’ll probably be granted an en banc hearing and have to do it all over again in New Orleans before the Fifth Circuit.

OK, but what the hell does “on bonk” mean? Is that lawyer-speak?

CW: En banc. It’s a legal term. It means the whole circuit has to hear it instead of just a three-judge panel.

You talked about attending law school in your book. A law degree must be useful through this struggle?

CW: I didn’t put this in the book, but three days after I released the Liberator, I dropped out of law school. The next day, I got attacked by the government. Everything changed after that. I couldn’t finish my degree because I was trying to fight for many years to protect what we had done in those few short months.

The Liberator ia a 3D printed, single-shot .380 pistol that is untraceable and can be made to be undetectable. Though the round and the hardware store nail it uses as a firing pin can be carried separately, a chunk of metal is supposed to be permanently epoxied in the frame to complete assembly, making the receiver itself detectable by electronic means.

The Liberator ia a 3D printed, single-shot .380 pistol that is untraceable and can be made to be undetectable. Though the round and the hardware store nail it uses as a firing pin can be carried separately, a chunk of metal is supposed to be permanently epoxied in the frame to complete assembly, making the receiver itself detectable by electronic means.

Are you concerned about establishing a bad precedent if the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court? They could decide you created and disseminated a weapon, not protected speech.

CW: No. I think there’s two different things going on. About six months after I took them to court, the government decided that, “Oh, hey, by the way, we got back to you on the request you made. Yeah, you did break the law.” So, the government has already decided that I broke the law, and I made a weapon or whatever. But no, if you’re asking am I afraid of making a bad precedent, not really. I think I have the best legal team possible. I have Alan Gura. I’ve got the guy who got us Heller and McDonald, you know?

Has anybody ever called you an optimist?

CW: Optimist, yeah, sometimes. I think I’m pretty gloomy in my outlook in general, but you’re right. I wouldn’t do everything I was doing if I didn’t believe that I could pull out in the end.

Do you consider yourself a firearms enthusiast?

CW: I am now. But, not at that time. I like guns, and I liked them then, but no, I didn’t know much about them, and I wasn’t a huge enthusiast. Now, I’m much more comfortable talking to people about the specifics of a couple different guns, but at the beginning there was just, “How do we play with the symbol; how do we exploit the symbol?”

Do you carry a pistol? Are you an advocate of self-defense?

CW: Yeah. Sure. I’m an advocate, but I don’t carry. Maybe one day I will carry. I don’t have a problem with carrying. Most of the people at my shop do, and have guns at work and everything. I just don’t personally.

Profits from Wilson's original Ghost Gunner, and now the Ghost Gunner 2, have been funding Wilson's fight with the U.S. government over the release of the Liberator.

Profits from Wilson’s original Ghost Gunner, and now the Ghost Gunner 2, have been funding Wilson’s fight with the U.S. government over the release of the Liberator.

What’s the difference between anarchy and freedom?

CW: I think they’re synonymous. In some ways freedom is kind of like a buzzword because people differ more on what freedom is, negative liberty versus positive liberty, than they differ on what anarchy is.

Anarchy is the lack of control. It’s a lack of systemic, programmatic mechanisms. It basically means the true latitude of human action, individual sovereignty.

Is there irony in the idea of a free society having to vote for measures that provide freedom?

CW: Yeah. It’s almost like when people vote freedom today, they almost subconsciously mean it in terms of license: “Someone will give me freedom to do so.” Anarchy is totally egoistic, the vacuum of authority. In terms of guns and 3D printing, you can almost only do things the government will literally license and allow you the freedom to do. That’s been true for many years in our gun culture, and it’s becoming increasingly true in aspects that we felt they’d never touched, both in the states and eventually at the federal level. We all know that Hillary doesn’t spell a good end to all this if she makes it. Yeah, at some point only a good anarchist will have a semi-auto rifle in this country.

Have you ever felt like a terrorist when you’re trying to bring about change?

CW: A little bit. I kind of flirt with what Baudrillard called “the spirit of terrorism” a little bit in the narrative. The spirit of terrorism is this idea they can use involuntary, involuting forces. You can take the government structure and almost trick it, lull it into a defensive spiral of extending resources and effort to where it collapses on itself. That was one thing we were kind of beckoning people at the time. We’re like, “Hey, come and stop us on the internet. Hey, security state, come and make yourself real. You think you can stop guns? Watch this.” I think that’s a terrorist spirit, at least in the sense that Baudrillard writes about it.

In your book you say, “we piss explosive,” what does that mean?

CW: One of the ingredients of the explosive urea nitrate is in our piss. We’re weaponized down to our core biology. That’s the thing. You can try to play a game of platonic forms where, “Oh yeah, there’s weapons, and we can regulate weapons. The world can be made safe,” but when you really think about it, the whole problem is at the level of scientific discipline. We’ve accessed the power of electricity in the atom and the explosive, and it’s everywhere, and it’s in our biology. We live in a world of increasingly exploitable weaponization.

A shipment of Ghost Gunner 2 housings arrive at Defense Distributed in Austin, TX for final assembly.

A shipment of Ghost Gunner 2 housings arrive at Defense Distributed in Austin, TX for final assembly.

What’s your take on Snowden?

CW: There was a lot of overlap in our network and Snowden’s network, and, of course, we aspire to the same mentality about access to information, but Snowden is a committed Democrat. I don’t mean that in just his party politics. I mean he still believes in democratic structures, protecting, and defending the Republic of the United States from corruption.

Everything he did came from a place of civic norms — that we might recognize a generation ago — in the interest of the voting public. That’s cool, but we just don’t share his view about how to protect, and his optimism about what’s worth protecting in this government.

You talked a bit about your father in the book, but nothing about your mom. You think she’ll be pissed that you didn’t mention her in the book?

CW: She hasn’t read the book yet, so she’s probably going to be like, “Where’s mine?” I did say “To my mom and my dad” in the dedication, so at least I put it in the beginning there.

For your sake, we hope she’s not like our mom.

CW: Oh God. I think she’s probably like your mom. I’m going to probably hear about it. I don’t know, man. Obviously she was a part of this, but all I did was make her worried through that whole thing, so she didn’t play the same role as my dad did in it. Of course she was there for the whole thing. She knew what was happening just like other people in my family did. But, no. If anything, moms just want you to be safe. They don’t want you to go off and start inviting the government to f*ck up your life.

We talked about freedom and anarchy. What about security? What does that mean to you?

CW: Security now is like a dog whistle. I think it’s used culturally and ideologically in a sense of securitization. I never saw things in the terms of, “Oh, I’m actually going to help people with security. They’ll have a gun, and then they’ll be safer.” I don’t believe the Liberator is an effective and acceptable option for anybody’s self-defense. I want to strip away that veneer, that feeling of the security state and the kind of prevailing norms of security that you think protect us like a little blanket.

 

Wilson doesn't think 3D printing will supplant traditional machining, "... there's always going to be more complex parts that we can only make with metal 3D printing. But you can't beat the old-school milling and lathing man. That's just the bread and butter of all this stuff."

Wilson doesn’t think 3D printing will supplant traditional machining, “… there’s always going to be more complex parts that we can only make with metal 3D printing. But you can’t beat the old-school milling and lathing man. That’s just the bread and butter of all this stuff.”

You mention the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 in your book. How does that play into your attack of state security?

CW: There’s a historical bonus because the Liberator ends up being this “undetectable gun”; it can be made [mostly] of plastic. I was only interested in it being an untraceable gun. This highlights two separate conversations. There’s security through observability in a sense of the government can see what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Then, there’s that deeper level of security in detectability. The Liberator creates problems out of both of them.

Do you support the NRA?

CW: I’m glad they’re there. I do think they’re a significant lobby. At the same time I know that they don’t really take the government to the mat in court. They don’t really care about creating precedent and a strong Second Amendment at the highest level. They tried to f@#k up and then take credit for McDonald. All the significant Second Amendment victories we’ve had at the courts have been through the Second Amendment Foundation, not the NRA. They are not as important to the actual living, breathing Second Amendment as they would like you to believe; but I’m glad that they’re a big, strong lobby in Washington.

The Second Amendment Foundation is an organization you respect? Can you talk about them a little bit?

CW: Of course. Alan Gottlieb runs the show, man. They just got a victory in the Third Circuit on a double en banc. They just created [a way so] felons who’ve served their debt to society can get their guns back. That ain’t the NRA. NRA is not spending money on you for that. It’s even worse for groups like the NSSF. All they are is an industry lobby. All they have is a political action committee, and they just like schmaltz around with politicians and stuff. They won’t even give me a membership. These people don’t believe in the Second Amendment.

Wilson and Amir Taaki in Berlin, August 2014. Taaki joins Wilson on the other side of Wilson's crypto-anarchist project: Bitcoin. Their Dark Wallet and DarkMarket projects use Bitcoin to create untraceable financial transactions.

Wilson and Amir Taaki in Berlin, August 2014. Taaki joins Wilson on the other side of Wilson’s crypto-anarchist project: Bitcoin. Their Dark Wallet and DarkMarket projects use Bitcoin to create untraceable financial transactions.

What precipitated your strong opinion of the National Shooting Sports Foundation?

CW: I joined the NSSF for one reason. I want to present at SHOT Show. I have a nice product. I don’t mind supporting the NSSF. I think they’re like the little brother to the NRA. I send an application, and I don’t get a response. A month later, I just get my membership application returned and my application fee refunded as an NSSF check. They said … In fact I’ve got it in my email. It went all the way up to the CEO of NSSF. Let me get it to you right now. I’m like radioactive up there. I think they’re worried I’m going to go write some story in RECOIL Magazine.

Ha.

CW: Here we go. This is an email from [their] director of membership services. “Follow up to your phone message Friday 19th. Defense Distributed’s application was reviewed by NSSF staff, including Steve Sanetti, president, CEO. After reviewing the application and NSSF bylaws, it was determined that Defense Distributed is not qualified for membership because it was felt that Defense Distributed would not further the objectives of the foundation in the promotion of the firearms, ammunition, hunting and the shooting sports industry.”

So, the government stopped you from disseminating your work a couple days after the Liberator plans were posted, but how much of this stuff was already out there on the internet, and still is?

CW: Oh, quite a bit. All of the stuff we released is still out there. Our printable lower files are the basis of everybody else’s remixes for the AR. You can show me an STL file, and I can tell you if it’s based on our stuff. The DNA of our work is completely in the wild.

Here’s our last question. If the genie is out, why continue to rub the lamp?

CW: I’m not rubbing the lamp. The genie was out of the bottle when [Eugene] Stoner’s plans passed into the public domain. Goddamn. Machinists have been passing this stuff around for years. This controversy is manufactured, and nothing we’ve done is at the level of true fundamental invention, although we ushered in the 3D printed gun phase. The stakes of the fight are that the government now realizes there’s tooling and technology out there that lets anyone take all the plans and know-how that’s been in the public domain for years, and make an AR now. I mean anybody, with no knowledge at all. Anybody can make an AR. Anybody can make a 1911. They can do it on the cheap with digital technology, with the internet, unmediated, no authority. We’re yelling about it, and they have got to shut us up as a response to dissuade the public.

Testing: DD decided to see if the Liberator could run 5.7x28 FN. It couldn't.

Testing: DD decided to see if the Liberator could run 5.7×28 FN. It couldn’t.

Cody Wilson

Age: 28
Education: BA English
Hometown: Cabot, Arkansas
Favorite firearm: FN P90
Favorite Movie: Blade Runner
Favorite Philosopher: Baudrillard
Favorite Food: Steak
iPhone or Android: I’d rather be choked
If you could only have one firearm it would be an: M1 Garand
Last book you read: W.B. Yeats – Collected Poems
Last Show Watched: Neon Genesis Evangelion
URL: ghostgunner.net

[Editor’s Note: Portions of this interview were clarified and abbreviated to accommodate the space constraints of our print publication.]

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