MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Lion King Puppet Technician Arrested Over 3D-Printed Pistol at Theater

Ilya Vett claims he was making the gun as a "gift" for his brother. But he was still arrested and charged with attempted criminal possession of a firearm.

Valentino Visentini/Dreamstime.comValentino Visentini/Dreamstime.comA puppet technician working on the Broadway production of The Lion King says he was making a 3D-printed gun as a "gift" for his brother. Now 47-year-old Ilya Vett faces a criminal charge.

3D-printed guns have been a hotly debated issue in recent months, though as Reason's Nick Gillespie has argued, hysteria over the allegedly untraceable weapons is rooted in technophobia, not reality. While all the facts have yet to come out, Vett's case appears to be a prime example of how relatively harmless individuals suffer the consequences of that hysteria.

New York Police Department (NYPD) sources tell the New York Daily News that Vett was already about to lose his job as a puppet specialist on the hit musical. Minskoff Theatre security personnel were helping Vett clear out the prop room on Friday when they found a 3D printer, as well as a partially constructed gun.

Human resources then called the cops. When police arrived on the scene, they found the printer with a memory card plugged in. "I observed that the 3D printer was producing a hard black plastic object which, based on my training and experience, is shaped like a revolver," NYPD Officer James Taylor wrote in a criminal complaint, according to The New York Times.

Vett told police his workshop was "too dusty," so he brought the printer to the theater "It's mine.... I was making the gun as a gift to my brother," Vett said, according to the complaint. "He lives upstate and has a firearms license. There's a website that has plans for the gun. I downloaded the plans onto the SD card in the printer."

Police took Vett into custody, though it wasn't until Saturday night that he was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court, the New York Post reports. Vett was charged with attempted criminal possession of a firearm and released without bail, with his case adjourned until November.

Printing a 3D-printed gun without a license isn't actually illegal under federal law. But according to a notice from New York State Police, anyone who "possesses an unregistered operable 3-D printed pistol or revolver is committing a felony offense."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been among the more outspoken opponents of 3D-printed weapons. In July, the federal government reached a settlement with Defense Distributed, a company that shares blueprints for 3D-printed guns. Cuomo responded by issuing a cease-and-desist letter to Defense Distributed and directing state police to put out the notice regarding all 3D-printed weapons.

What Cuomo and those of like mind don't understand is that banning 3D-printed guns is a giant overreaction. As Gillespie wrote last month:

3D-printed guns won't increase crime even if and when (and that's a Big Bertha-sized if and when) they become something other than a plaything for tech-forward hobbyists. The printing technology to crank out cheap and durable guns is a long time away, criminals already have access to more guns than they can use, and crime has gone down even as the number of weapons in circulation has gone up.

Vett's story appears to prove Gillespie's point. Again, we don't know all the facts about the puppet specialist's case; but it certainly doesn't sound like he was a hardened criminal. Vett may have simply been a gun enthusiast. Thanks to New York's zero-tolerance stance on 3D-printed weapons, however, he's being treated like a potentially dangerous criminal.

Photo Credit: Valentino Visentini/Dreamstime.com

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Eddy||

    Did the gun fall out of his pocket while he was doing backflips? That's the sign of a trained, responsible gun-user.

  • Dillinger||

    arrested for what's on printer is not america.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...hysteria over the allegedly untraceable weapons is rooted in technophobia, not reality.

    Hysteria over the Second Amendment, too.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    """possesses an unregistered operable 3-D printed pistol or revolver is committing a felony offense."""

    The article makes it sound like the firearm was not complete. If so, it's not operable, therefore not illegal.

  • Cathy L||

    That's why he's only charged with attempted possession.

  • Dillinger||

    tripped and fell on ctrl-p

  • ||

    The article makes it sound like the firearm was not complete. If so, it's not operable, therefore not illegal.

    It's not entirely clear that he wasn't producing a replica completely unintended to fire anything.

  • Wizard4169||

    I observed that the 3-D printer was producing a hard black plastic object which, based on my training and experience, is shaped like a revolver," he wrote in the complaint.


    Actually, it's pretty clear that he was producing a non-firing replica. Last time I checked, it was still impossible to produce a functional, fireable all-plastic revolver. Even if you could somehow get it to fire, which would require several metal parts, a plastic cylinder would almost certainly explode after the first round. While the article is a little short on details, I'm willing to be that the object he was printing didn't even have any moving parts. If this is true, then there's no way it could have chambered or fired live ammunition. Therefore, it is not legally a firearm, and the charges are bullshit. I suppose NY might have laws regulating the possession of non-firing replicas (It's NY, I wouldn't put it past them.), but a gun-shaped piece of plastic is not a gun.

  • Kevin Tyssen||

    I'm still wondering where he got training and experience in identifying 3D printed gun parts

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "I observed that the 3D printer was producing a hard black plastic object which, based on my training and experience, is shaped like a revolver," NYPD Officer James Taylor wrote in a criminal complaint...

    Training and experience. The same kind used when police shoot kids wielding hard plastic toy guns.

  • Reformed Republican||

    I think a four year old knows what a gun looks like. How much training and experience do you need to make that observation?

  • ||

    I think a four year old knows what a gun looks like. How much training and experience do you need to make that observation?

    I should've refreshed the page before posting. Agreed. My youngest, who's now 5, could distinguish revolver from semi-automatic pistol from plastic replica exceedingly reliably for well over a year. My 9 and 11 yr. olds, thanks in big part to FPS gaming, are quite well versed in not just a wide array of arms, but the country of manufacture and/or armies that deploy as well.

  • Mickey Rat||

    What is the point of saying that printing out a gun on a 3d printer is not illegal under federal law? Is he not being charged under state and local law? I am not sure why reason thinks this is an argument against local laws.

    Furthermore, it is in NYS, white the Cuomo regime is on a crusade against guns, having absurd anti gun.laws in general with NYC being more paranoid.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Well we have a 1st, 2nd and 14th amendment that may infact supersede state law.

  • Naaman Brown||

    The US v Cruikshank decision of 1876 is cited as the justification for state laws that violate the 1st amendment right to assembly and 2nd amendment right to bear arms as well as the right to vote. SCOTUS in Cruikshank 1876 decreed that the Bill of Rights only protects against infringements by the federal government or Congress.

    Since Cruikshank (a Klansman) and the state of Louisiana were not the US Congress, they could not be charged for violating the civil rights of over a hundred people who had gathered at Colfax Parish courthouse massacred on Easter Sunday 1873.

    Gun control advocates for over a century have relied on Cruikshank 1876 as the justification for state laws, including the New York 1911 Sullivan Act which pretends the 2A of the BoR does not apply to the state. As far as the Empire State and their imperial highnesses Andrew Cuomo and Michael Bloomberg are concerned, Tim Sullivan's Act does supersede federal law and should be imposed nationally.

    (Cruikshank was rendered a nullity in the decisions of Guest and Price in the 1960s, but last I checked the gun control groups still cite Cruikshank as justification to ignore individual gun rights.)

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Police took Vett into custody, though it wasn't until Saturday night that he was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court...

    Took them a while to figure out what they could throw at him based on a partially constructed piece of a firearm?

  • Don't look at me.||

    Partial construction of a PLASTIC MODEL OF A GUN.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Cuomo wasn't answering his texts.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "I observed that the 3D printer was producing a hard black plastic object which, based on my training and experience, is shaped like a revolver," NYPD Officer James Taylor

    Ok, Barney Fife. Sure. Your special "training and experience"...

  • ||

    I LOL'ed. He's claiming the training and experience of a 4 yr. old.

  • Don't look at me.||

    New York must be much safer than I could've have imagined if this is what cops are spending their time on. Imagine the carnage that could ensued had the criminal gun printer was able complete this object of destruction by firing a single bullet if the gun didn't blow up in his hand first.

  • ||

    Imagine the carnage that could ensued had the criminal gun printer was able complete this object of destruction by firing a single bullet if the gun didn't blow up in his hand first.

    If the gun blows up before firing a single bullet you really did something wrong.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Vett's story appears to prove Gillespie's point.

    From where I stand, Vett's story seems to prove that regulators are all to happy to throw you in jail for anything that remotely fits in with their incredibly broad and "unenforceable" regulations. I suspect Andrew Cuomo isn't the one looking over his shoulder, but his constituents are. That's how power works.

  • Ron||

    I Don't know about NY but in California it is legal to make your own gun but where he made the mistake is saying he was going to give it to a relative that is not legal in Cali with home built guns. other states you can still give guns to relatives

  • ||

    I Don't know about NY but in California it is legal to make your own gun but where he made the mistake is saying he was going to give it to a relative that is not legal in Cali with home built guns. other states you can still give guns to relatives

    As near as I can tell, this guy took the plans for a revolver and printed them off in plastic. What he has is somewhere between toy and replica rather than firearm.

  • tpaine||

    Yes your honor, I'm a prop maker

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Good first court case to protect the 2nd Amendment right of the People to keep and bear Arms.

    Fuck you New York and your unconstitutional bans on Arms.

  • ||

    Good first court case to protect the 2nd Amendment right of the People to keep and bear Arms.

    As with DD, it's not clear whether this is/was a 1A or 2A case. He wasn't printing a firearm as much as a replica.

    Someone decried Cody Wilson's contribution to 3D printing the other day and I defended him. This case stands as sterling validation of his contribution and defense. Without Wilson/DD, we'd have Vett's Law quietly written into the books and cited as precedent every time a 3D printer was arrested doing something untoward. I don't deny that it may still happen, just that it's better to have DD *and* the situation rather than the situation without DD.

  • DajjaI||

    Getting a felony sucks even if you avoid jail time because it makes it almost impossible to get a decent job or rent an apt. This is a lifetime stigma. Welcome to the underclass. Even just a charge can make your life grind to a halt for a good long time. I feel sorry for this guy but this kind of prank was pretty brazen. When it comes to guns, don't play games. Hopefully his brother will remember it's the thought that counts.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He's not going to 'get a felony' unless he's a moron and pleas to a crime.

    He has not violated any constitutional law and he should fight his charges as such.

  • DajjaI||

    True but even the charge will appear on a background check. He will always have to explain it. Stop encouraging people to commit crimes. It will not end well, despite the best of intentions. #ucantfightthesystem

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Being arrested does not show up on background checks.

    The FBI only releases convictions and dispositions of those convictions. Even those convictions only go back 7-10 years for average background checks.

    It is not a crime to violate an unconstitutional law. It is actually your patriotic duty to protect the Constitution as all government derives from that Constitution and should not be allowed to abuse its powers.

  • DajjaI||

    Maybe but the misdemeanor certainly will. (Yes you might get a misdemeanor expunged eventually.)

  • loveconstitution1789||

    An arrest is NOT a conviction.

    Convictions can be expunged. Convictions can be sealed.

  • DajjaI||

    I said charge not arrest, dumb dumb.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Charges are NOT convictions dum dum.

    Charges dont show up on your 'record' unless you have a conviction for said charges.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    What the odds that expunged data is still in the database but with the expunged flag set to 1?

  • DajjaI||

    In LA you can search by name for the past 30 years.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Thats by court case number dumb dumb. There needs to be a court case number. You can search COURT CASES by name.

    An arrest does not necessarily lead to a prosecution and then a court case number.

  • Sigivald||

    You mean it's illegal to have an unregistered gun in New York City?

    This is my fucking shocked face.

    (If it was in-progress, well, that's why the charge is "attempted", and it'll be really hard to convict unless they can show the gun would have actually been functional if completed.

    "Revolver" suggests not, since I don't think you can 3d print one of those out of ABS.

    Not to say the NY/NYC law isn't utter bollocks, but "good law" vs. "is law nonetheless" is another matter.)

  • LarryA||

    Vett may have simply been a gun enthusiast.

    I think maybe a gun enthusiast would have run across mention of NYC law; i.e. "Don't even think about possessing anything that looks like a gun, and you'll also get in trouble for printing a pocketknife."

    The brother may be the enthusiast, with Vett thinking NYC law was like NY State, which it isn't. Or Vett may have been hanging with NYC movie producers, who can have all the guns they want.

  • Diane Merriam||

    If it was only partially complete, then, by definition, it's not operable and therefore no crime.

  • Jerry B.||

    "...anyone who "possesses an unregistered operable 3-D printed pistol or revolver is committing a felony offense.""

    Maybe Mayor Cuomo should try to fire it to see if it's really operable.

  • IceTrey||

    So having an 80% completed pistol frame which are perfectly legal to purchase federally is a crime in NY?

  • Rock Cowles||

    How is a partially printed revolver operable? He's going to have a great lawsuit.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online