"Gun control is not dead, gun control is undead," explains Cody Wilson, the director of Defense Distributed. "We just keep killing it but it keeps coming back."
Wilson, a crypto-anarchist and serial "troublemaker," helped launch the age of the digital gun when he published files showing how to make the Liberator, a 3D-printed pistol, in 2013. It set off a panic in the media and in anti-gun political circles, and the State Department demanded Defense Distributed remove the files from their website.
But five years after the Liberator debut, the technological limitations of homemade firearms have started disappearing. The materials are cheaper and better, the machines are more precise, and the software is more advanced. Groups of hobbyist gun printers started gathering in IRC chats and internet forums, and are working together to make their own gun designs. It's a new reality that hasn't entirely filtered into public debates over gun control.
"I like the Liberator, it's fine," union carpenter and hobbyist gun printer Darren Booth says. "[But] it's only good for one shot. I thought, 'what can I do to make it a little better?'"
Booth developed the Shuty AP-9, a semi-automatic, mostly 3D printed, 9mm handgun based on the AR-15 platform.
Booth is a regular of the FOSSCAD group, and the community worked together to create the digital files for the Shuty. "It's an open community. It's an open chat," says Booth. "Anyone can go on there and just ask questions." Files for the Shuty, as well as other firearm designs, can be easily downloaded from the FOSSCAD repository.
"I've watched some of these groups begin," says Wilson. "And it's great. In our earliest days I imagined that that would be what victory looked like. There would have to be communities taking up these projects on their own."
In late 2017, Defense Distributed released files that allow the Ghost Gunner to mill out unfinished metal handgun frames. Wilson says the new focus on handguns is in part a legal strategy based on the 2008 supreme court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, that affirmed the right to own a handgun for self defense.
"The handgun is at the center of what is protected in the Heller decision," explains Wison. "So, whereas, AR-15's may not ever be backed up by the Supreme Court, there's no way of getting around, right now, the protections that the Supreme Court gave to the handgun. And so this is the core of the Second Amendment liberty as it's currently understood."
Produced and edited by Mark McDaniel. Additional footage by Todd Krainin.