Gun control is not dead," says Cody Wilson. "Gun control is undead. We just keep killing it but it keeps coming back." Wilson, a crypto-anarchist and serial troublemaker, launched the age of the digital gun in 2013 when he published files showing how to make the Liberator, a 3D-printed pistol. It set off a panic in the media and in anti-gun political circles.
By late 2014, his company, Defense Distributed, had raised enough capital to begin manufacturing the Ghost Gunner, a miniature computer numerical control (CNC) mill designed to take an "80 percent lower" for an AR-15 and turn it into a legal, untraceable, fully functioning metal firearm. (While the 3D-printing process is additive, creating objects out of soft material such as plastics, milling is subtractive, cutting away material from an existing structure, and can be done to both plastics and metals.)
For the uninitiated, the Ghost Gunner's purpose takes some unpacking. A lower receiver is the part generally considered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to be the "firearm," whether other components are present or not. It is also the part that must be stamped with a serial number when produced by a commercial manufacturer.
So-called 80 percent lowers (or "80 percent frames") are, as the name suggests, only four-fifths complete. As a result, they're not firearms in a legal sense. Anyone can purchase an 80 percent lower and then use his own tools to do the remaining mill work, turning the object into a working weapon. It is perfectly licit in the U.S. to make a gun this way; outside of California, it does not need to be registered or serialized.
For four years, Wilson has been embroiled in a legal battle over his work. But it's not the ATF he's fighting—it's the State Department. Shortly after publication of the Liberator instructions, the agency forced Defense Distributed to remove those files from its website, citing violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
In 2015, joined by the Second Amendment Foundation and the legendary attorney Alan Gura, Wilson challenged the State Department's order on First, Second, and Fifth Amendment grounds. They later petitioned the Supreme Court for a temporary injunction that would null the take-down order until their lawsuit is resolved. In January, the high court declined to hear the case, sending it back to a lower court in Texas to be argued on the merits.
Despite the ongoing legal skirmishing, Defense Distributed in late 2017 released new files allowing the Ghost Gunner to mill handgun frames in addition to rifles. In December, Reason's Mark McDaniel spoke with Wilson about the future of gun control, how a weapon can be speech, and where Western liberal decadence is taking us.