How To Print a Gun at Home: Ronald Bailey Reviews 'Come and Take It' at WSJ

Is plastic gun printer Cody Wilson an 'open source terrorist' or a free speech hero?


Simon and Schuster

In the Wall Street Journal today, I review Cody Wilson's new book, Come and Take It: The Gun Printer's Guide to Thinking Free. Wilson became notorious when he launched the effort by his non-profit Defense Distributed to create and then supply online the digital files for using a 3-D printer to make guns at home. His new book almost diaristically details that saga and the opposition and relentless fearmongering that his project has faced from government agencies and progressive pundits and politicians.

Wilson takes his title from the Gonzales Flag used by American colonists when they fought the first battle for Texas independence from Mexico. Featuring an image of the cannon the colonists refused to hand over to Mexican troops the flag is emblazoned with the slogan "Come and Take It." On his website, Wilson replaced the cannon with an image of a RepRap printer.

Excerpts from the WSJ review:

Do you have a right to download and use the digital instructions to print out a gun? In September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled, 2 to 1, that you don't. The author of "Come and Take It," Cody Wilson, runs the nonprofit Defense Distributed, which was the losing plaintiff in that case. Mr. Wilson asserts that the printing instructions are protected by the First Amendment as free speech. In a sense, the court ruling is an answer to the author's challenge to "come and take it."

The Feds want to ban the guns and the digital instructions for making them.

Just how could the federal agencies actually enforce such a ban? Put firmware locks on the printers? Ban digital file sharing? Require that manufacturers of 3-D printers install some kind of feature that prevents gun-part printing? As digital-rights activist Cory Doctorow, who is no fan of Mr. Wilson's, has observed: "Every one of those measures is a nonsense and worse: unworkable combinations of authoritarianism, censorship, and wishful thinking. Importantly, none of these would prevent people from manufacturing plastic guns. And all of these measures would grossly interfere with the lawful operation of 3D printers."…

Judge Edith Jones, in her powerful [Fifth Circuit] dissent, observed that "the denial of a temporary injunction in this case will encourage the State Department to threaten and harass publishers of similar non-classified information." She further declared that "interference with First Amendment rights for any period of time, even for short periods, constitutes irreparable injury." During a talk in 2013, Mr. Wilson declared that his digital gun-design project "is working so well because it confuses the stakes for free-speech liberals and command-and-control liberals. The files themselves are a powerful species of political speech. And how do we know they are political speech? Because the're being fought so strongly." Sadly, free-speech liberals seem mostly absent in this fight.

Go here to read the whole WSJ review.

For more background see below my Reason TV colleague Todd Krainin's documentary, "Cody Wilson: Happiness Is A 3-D Printed Gun."

NEXT: Eric Garner's Daughter Blasts Clinton Campaign for Trying to Tie Police Violence to Gun Violence

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  1. Can’t he be neither?

    1. Or both?

    2. I would call him a principled troll. He does believe in what he is doing and he also delights in the anger and dismay he causes the anti-gun crowd, both governmental and private citizens.

  2. Sadly Unsurprisingly, those worthless free-speech liberals seem mostly absent in this fight.

    1. I like the term command and control liberals. Fits well.

  3. Do you have a right to download and use the digital instructions to print out a gun? In September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled, 2 to 1, that you don’t.

    Just because legislators and a couple of attorneys in robes decided to infringe on it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right.

    1. Rights flow from the lips of your betters. You do not get to decide what your rights are, and you should be happy that they’ve deigned to extend to you the ones you have now.

  4. Wilson takes his title from the Gonzales Flag used by American colonists when they fought the first battle for Texas independence from Mexico.

    Does Wilson himself say this?

    1. Colonists in Texas had been exposed to Greek histories, current “educated” people*, mostly not, so very few people recognize it as being a translation of “Molon Labe”, despite the popularity of the phrase due to the movie The 300.

      *Not meant to be a slur on Mr. Wilson. I never learned it in school, despite having some really good classes. We just don’t teach Greek as part of our liberal arts curriculum anymore, so everyone who goes to college hasn’t translated the Battle of Thermopylae as part of their education.

      1. Between Texas pride, a proper upbringing, military training, or ignorance of history I thought it could’ve gone either way, IMO.

        I wanted to be sure it wasn’t Bailey and any exposure/understanding *he* may or may not have. Knowing Wilson, it’s deliberately Texas Pride.

  5. I’m surprised the feds haven’t come after Cody Wilson already. I’ve been expecting him to get treated like Ulbricht, Manning, Assange, and Snowden–even though he hasn’t done anything even technically illegal or wrong.

    There’s something especially admirable in his fearlessness, doing everything he does out in the open with his real name, too. He’s not like Ulbrich, Manning, and Snowden in that he’s not even trying to hide what he’s doing–he’s publicizing it. In his own way, he’s a bigger threat to subvert the statist mentality than those others were.

    It’s like he’s distilled the whole anti-statist argument into one issue that average people can grok–whenever people see what he’s doing and think to themselves, “Yeah, we should be free to do this”.

    I have all the respect in the world for Cody Wilson and what he’s doing. God bless him. If he ever needs to start a criminal defense fund, I’ll make a contribution. I can’t see that he’s breaking any laws, and if the government creates laws that what he’s doing breaks in the future, then they’ll be laws that should probably be broken.

    1. even though he hasn’t done anything even technically illegal or wrong

      They’re working out how. In this day and age, the easiest way to smear a man is to find an unscrupulous woman who will claim that he raped her. Even if there is no evidence or even charges for it, the court of public opinion will convict.

      He seems smarter than your average bear. He probably knows this and is more careful than anyone should need to be to keep from being anywhere that he doesn’t have an alibi against any false charges the government can bring.

  6. I think the future may include 3D printers as common as 2D and the government attempting to control gun files just as effectively as they controlled movies and music.

    1. I think the future may include 3D printers as common as 2D

      Until incinerators are as common as garbage cans and watermelon environmentalists disappear from the face of the Earth, I don’t see this happening.

      1. Do you really need to incinerate failed projects? is the plastic re-meltable? Wouldn’t a home reel fabricator (melts down old projects and extrudes new filament for the printer) be an easier option?

        1. Some of the plastic is re-meltable. There are a couple of projects taking (e.g.) old milk jugs, shredding the plastic, and melting it back into spools. Regardless, you can’t reliably print (e.g.) an AR-15 out of plastic and it will still take lots of energy to grind up and reforge stronger materials. Not to mention, at which point, extruding them 3-D prototype style becomes retarded anyway.

        2. They have those. It is basically a grinder and an extruder.

          1. Right, but some materials plastics and others, cure or set rather than just being melted into place and the curing or setting process is part of the feature of the material and/or application. The specific material that pops into my mind is spray polyurethane foam insulation. Once you melt it, you can’t just spray it back into place and 3-D printing it back in place would be worse than using fiberglass asbestos or even probably cellulose.

            Once you get into guns and rifles (and other high performance/precision equipment) where an AR-15 needs to fit together tightly and some parts can be welded as opposed to an AK-style rifle where even the rivets have to be made of springy materials lest the rifle tear itself apart. All bets for the at-home consumer markets are off. You could probably get away with 3-D printing screwdrivers, but then you aren’t going to be able to beat the $0.50 per unit cost for making a screwdriver anyway.

  7. How are the digital files any different than the ‘Anarchist’s Cookbook’? Isn’t the Cookbook arguably worse since it includes bomb making instructions and a bomb could harm more people that a gun??

    1. Because the young lefties who head a copy of tAC are now The State.

    2. How are the digital files any different than the ‘Anarchist’s Cookbook’?

      Equally, Google (or other search) ‘Build AK’ or ‘Build AR’ and see how many hits you get. Moreover, the CIA and DOD has got to share assembly and repair instructions with grass roots (read: rapidly proliferating and wholly insecure) networks in nations like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They don’t realize how intractable the ‘problem’ actually is and that they’re a part of it.

  8. A Hot Chick in a skimpy miniskirt on the cover, pointing the gun straight at the reader would be effective.
    Also, he could change the title to (apologies beforehand) Molon Labia.

    1. Didn’t the Donald just get in trouble for saying something like this to Billy Bush?

      1. That was Carpe Labia!

        1. You don’t want to be doing that with a fish

          /deliberately missing the latin.

  9. Sadly, free-speech liberals seem mostly absent in this fight.

    In my experience free speech liberals really aren’t for free speech. They’re the ones who will say shit like “I believe in free speech, but…”

    No. You. Don’t. The second you say “but…” everything else that follows negates your assertion that you “believe in free speech.” And like I said, so called free speech liberals are some of the worst offenders when it comes that kind of shit.

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