'Ghost Gunner' from Cody Wilson Allows Home Milling Lower Receivers for Rifles for Just Over a Thousand Bucks


Cody Wilson, famous for making and popularizing the first 3D-printed plastic handgun (I profiled him at length in Reason's December 2013 issue), and his group Defense Distributed today debuted their latest provocation aimed at making gun possession easier, cheaper, and most importantly more outside the totalizing view of the state.

Ghost Gunner

Wilson and his team were inspired by a proposed law that passed the California House and Senate but which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed yesterday. The law, known as the "ghost gun" bill, would have banned guns without serial numbers filed with the government of any sort, as well as forcing those who do make homemade weapons to go through new procedures and background checks and getting federal Department of Justice approval before doing so.

Essentially, the bill would ban making a gun that the state didn't know about and mark. (Nick Gillespie blogged about the ghost gun bill here last month.)

The LA Times reported Brown's surprisingly sensible statement on vetoing the bill, pushed forward by Democratic state Rep. Kevin de Leon: "I appreciate the author's concerns about gun violence, but I can't see how adding a serial number to a homemade gun would significantly advance public safety." Exactly right, Gov. Brown.

To show exactly how right Brown was, and to educate any other state legislature that might contemplate following in de Leon's footsteps, Wilson and his Defense Distributed team launched a website today called GhostGunner.net.

Through it they are selling a tabletop milling machine which can, quoting from their FAQ, "manufacture any mil-spec 80% AR-15 lower receiver that already has the rear take down well milled out. ….Lowers with non-mil-spec trigger guards that are otherwise mil-spec are also compatible. Defense Distributed recommends using the 7075 Ares Armor Raw 80% Lower AR-15 Billet."

Wilson launched the project in response to de Leon's bill, to "the rhetoric developed out of California of detectability as the norm, of the observability of everything to the modern state. This guy de Leon defined as a 'ghost' something not intelligible to the state and that's a perfect way of talking about it. So this device will cut aluminum and it's good at finishing an 80 percent lower receiver for an AR-15 in under an hour." (Roughly, the ATF declares any lower receiver that is more than 80 percent complete as an actual gun subject to all regulations on actual guns.)

Wilson waited to see what Brown would do with the bill before publicly launching; he's convinced that had they gone live this time yesterday that Brown's office might have been scared into signing the ghost gun bill that Brown instead vetoed.

Wilson has always, as detailed in my 2013 profile, seen his actions as a complicated dance of reactions to what his controlling opponents do, and he generally understands what they will then do in reaction to him. "We decided we have to give them that world they are worried about with [de Leon's ghost gun bill], to create the problem they are talking about, to give that problem to them," Wilson says.

Laws like de Leon's, Wilson thinks, offer a "preferred regulatory landscape that's predicated on all the things that the digital manufacturing revolution" has made easier by an order of magnitude, not being as easy to get around as they actually are. Wilson just wants to remind controllers they don't live in the world they think they live in, a world where a mere law will actually stop something they perceive as a problem: someone possessing a tool of self-defense that is not visible and regulatable by the state.

The Ghost Gunner website FAQ has further technical details on how the tabletop device works, and this comment on the current legality of using it:

Semi-automatic firearms, including the AR-15 lower receivers, are generally legal to manufacture for private individuals per US federal law Title 18 do not require serialization or other maker's marks. However, some states/municipalities restrict either the manufacture of certain firearms, or, more recently, the personal manufacture of a firearm with a 3D printer and/or CNC machine. DD makes no claim regarding local manufacturing legality; lower receiver files provided by Defense Distributed might require special licensing to manufacture and/or possess. 

Under federal law, manufacturing a firearm for contemplation of future sale without an FFL is prohibited. Without a manufacturing FFL, you should manufacture firearms for personal use only. There are methods to legally transfer ownership of personally manufactured firearms, but they do not apply when the original manufacturing intent is to build a firearm for commercial or non-personal use. Recent ATF determinations have signaled that allowing others use of your CNC equipment may itself constitute manufacturing, therefore Defense Distributed advises GhostGunner owners to neither print firearms for other individuals, nor allow other individuals to use their GhostGunner to manufacture firearms.

You can pre-order the device for $1199 now (the earlier $999 price already sold out), and they promise holiday delivery.

Andy Greenberg at Wired wrote about it this morning. Excerpt that nicely sums up why making a homemade "lower receiver" for a rifle is such a big deal:

A lower receiver is the body of the gun that connects its stock, barrel, magazine and other parts. As such, it's also the rifle's most regulated element. Mill your own lower receiver at home, however, and you can order the rest of the parts from online gun shops, creating a semi-automatic weapon with no serial number, obtained with no background check, no waiting period or other regulatory hurdles.  

Greenberg also quotes Wilson explaining why he's moved from plastic 3D weapons to metal milled ones in his latest project:

[Wilson's] switch from 3-D printing to CNC milling metal makes the ubiquitous creation of usable, lethal weapons one step more practical . "3-D printing [guns] was about signaling the future. This is about the present," he says. "You can use this machine today to create something to the standards you're used to…The gold standard of the gun community is metal."

The promotional video for the project, in classic Wilson style, uses only the words of Rep. de Leon and an ATF agent and the music of Satie, and features the look of an arty horror flick to both scare the squares and hep the aware to the fact that no matter what the state thinks it can do to stop you from owning guns, ingenuity and technology and indomitable will can get around their efforts. (Favorite touches: the glowing pig mask over a light fixture, and the mixture of a shadowy figure reading in a dark room with the Ghost Gunner and a gun on a table):