Danger in 3-D: The Rapid Spread of Printable Pistols

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The instructions for making the Liberator went online on the night of May 5. Weeks earlier, Wilson had said that he didn't expect the files for the weapon to be available on his website for long. "If the Liberator works," he wrote, "it's only logical that government will fight it."

He received a letter from the US Department of State on May 9. The head of the criminal prosecution arm of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs accused him of violating the terms of the Arms Export Control Act. Until the charges had been fully investigated, Wilson was ordered to remove the files from his website immediately. Wilson complied. For him, whether or not the files are available for download is no longer important, nor is the State Department's final decision. He has achieved what he set out to achieve.

At this point, the files for the Liberator are not just on more than 100,000 computers around the world. They are also part of The Pirate Bay, a file-sharing network that can be described as a criminal special economic zone of global proportions.

Since the site was established nine years ago, pirated copies of all sorts have been distributed very successfully and made available for easy download. So far, no government in the world has been able to do anything about it.

The Liberator became part of The Pirate Bay on May 6, at 9:53 a.m. and 44 second, Central European Time, when the first copy appeared on the network. There were 3,500 copies two weeks later, and they continue to spread.

A few days later, journalists with the British newspaper Daily Mail reported that they had printed and assembled a Liberator. They also managed to smuggle the weapon onto a Eurostar train, whose passengers are required to pass through metal detectors before boarding.

A few days later, one of Wilson's supporters distributed a new video. It depicts a Liberator that was supposedly not printed on a semi-professional printer, but on a home device. Although the individual parts are still held together by metal pins, the good news for Wilson was that the barrel and the receiver were holding up.

Wilson disseminates the links to such videos on Twitter. He says that the story of the Liberator is like Wikipedia: an individual's project becomes the cause of a global community.

He is already thinking about new project. He recently heard from another Texan who wants to collaborate with him. The man makes do-it-yourself drones.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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