The Austin-based nonprofit Defense Distributed, which defends and facilitiates the homemade firearm movement, has had a wild seven months: It reached a settlement in a longstanding federal lawsuit, it reposted all of its downloadable gun files on the internet, it was sued by 25 states, and then it had to pull all those files back down. It also just launched a new product: the Polymer80 kit for finishing a Glock-style handgun on the company's Ghost Gunner milling machine in about half an hour.
But the most consequential event for the company was the arrest and indictment of its charismatic founder, Cody Wilson. In September 2018, Austin police announced a warrant for Wilson's arrest for allegedly paying for sex with a 16-year-old female he met through an app called SugarDaddyMeet—in a state where the age of consent is 17. Police discovered Wilson was in Taiwan, and he was detained and sent home. Wilson is currently out on bail awaiting trial.
Stepping up as Defense Distributed's new director was Paloma Heindorff, who had little experience on the public stage and hadn't even fired a gun prior to 2015.
So where does Wilson's arrest and resignation leave Defense Distributed, a company oriented around Wilson's brash public persona and vision of all-out war between the state and the individual? And what's the future of its legal battle to protect the First Amendment right to distribute gun files? Reason's Zach Weissmueller went behind the scenes at America's most controversial gun company.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Jim Epstein, Mark McDaniel, and Weissmueller. Additional graphics by Epstein.