Note: This will likely be a
five three-part series. I will link to all parts below this note once all are done. I am the DefCad.org user, “OpenSourceArmorer.” Contact me via the DefCad forums if you have questions, and no – don’t even ask me for the original .STL files. Unless you can verify that you’re a US citizen, I can’t share them. And in the interwebs that kind of identity verification is hard and pointless. Especially when the files themselves are not that hard to find elsewhere…
In the first post in the three-part series I described what the controversy is over some 3D-printable CAD files that the State Department was concerned about. I especially emphasized what the State Department’s criteria is for objects that fall under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Now in this post I want to go over all ten items that were listed in their letter to Cody Wilson and explain why it’s clear the State Department doesn’t have a clue about what these files actually do when printed. We begin with the most well-known of them all…
1 – Defense Distributed Liberator pistol
Okay so this first one needs little explanation aside from some clarification about it’s so-called “undetectability.” A lot of idiot journalists (and a few lawmakers) have been harping on this as being invisible to airport security, as if not a damn thing has changed in that area since 1988. Well no, we have new technologies such as backscatter x-ray, thermal imaging, and millimeter-wave scanners. These technologies make “undetectable” firearms a total impossibility.
A type of X-ray that can detect plastic is known as backscatter X-ray. These types of body scanners will penetrate clothing, but not skin. Any solid object can be picked up irrespective of what it’s made of – including a 3D-printed gun. In fact, the ability to detect “plastic guns” has been one of the selling points of Rapiscan, the company that currently makes the kind that have been used in airport security. Right now they are working on a new version of their TSA body scanners that only show a gingerbread outline of the person being scanned (to address privacy concerns) while highlighting any specific foreign objects.
In addition to addressing privacy concerns, the Rapiscan body scanners also produce radiation levels so minuscule that you may as well worry more about being in direct sunlight for five minutes.
Thermo-Conductive Imaging identifies objects via their heat and infrared conductivity profile. The laws of physics makes it impossible for 3D-printed objects – or a wide variety of solid objects for that matter – to transfer heat and infrared radiation at the same rate as human skin and clothing. Yes, this applies even if someone has kept an object against their body for several hours. The temperature profile of any given object will vary between the side touching human skin and the side facing away. Thus it’s impossible to disguise an object from the scanner by attempting to match it’s temperature with the rest of someone’s body or clothing. Plastic being an insulator makes this especially impossible to pull off successfully.
Passive Radiation Scanners
Next we have a category of passive scanners that detect natural radiation output from a human body – such as a new kind of scanner being tested in crime-ridden areas of New York City. In particular one technology that shows some strong promise for being both from radiation and privacy concerns is passive millimeter-wave scanning. I cannot emphasize this enough: these do not fire radiation at the person being scanned. They detect obstructions in natural bodily radiation normally emitted.
To put it in blunt terms, there is no such thing as an “undetectable” firearm, even if it’s a 3D-printed gun made entirely out of plastic. I will address this issue in a future post when I critique Steve Israel’s HR 1474.
According to the ITAR criteria for what falls under their control, it *might* be illegal for files of this pistol to be on the internet because it qualifies as a “non-automatic” firearm. My next blog post will visit the legal issues surrounding what is okay under ITAR soon. According to the official ITAR regulations, what Cody Wilson did may very well be perfectly legal since the files themselves may qualify as being under public access. This will be discussed in the next post, for now I just want to focus on what the actual files are.
Now it’s about time I explain in detail what the other nine CAD files are that the State Department took issue with in their letter to Cody Wilson. Prepare to be stupefied at just how trivial these objects are in printed form.
2 – The “.22 Electric” Concept
This is nothing more than the product of someone messing around with CAD design in order to make a purely conceptual pistol that as of yet has no possible way of functioning. To my knowledge the person who originally developed it abandoned the project because they concluded it was just plain unrealistic of a concept to pull off. The idea was to somehow make a printable gun that fires rounds via electrical detonation of a cartridge’s primer. The designer of this object goes by the name of “Proteus” on the DefCad forums, and despite abandoning the concept this object was supposed to utilize, he later worked on making a replica of something the State Department probably took even more seriously – but for stupid reasons of course.
3 – 125mm BK-14M high-explosive anti-tank warhead
Out of all ten files, the reaction of the State Department over this one is by far the most f*ckishly hilarious of them all. This is not, I repeat, this is NOT a functional warhead. All you have here is a CAD file for making a plastic replica of a warhead that is no more harmful than a model jet. The story behind how the developer of this object achieved the task is especially noteworthy given how the State Department has chosen to define what an export is. When I first began a draft of this post several months ago (before I became busy for reasons discussed in this blog’s previous October post), I decided to get in touch with Proteus once and for all via private online chat.
He described to me in a nutshell how the process of designing the file played out:
“I designed a CAD file for a 125mm HEAT round. HEAT stands for High Explosive Anti Tank. Now, the first rule of anti tank warfare is do not fire solid pieces of ABS plastic at a tank, with no propellant, and hope it will stop the tank. It won’t. And yet this is exactly what the DOJ appears to believe regarding this design.”
So either the DOJ is stupid as hell, or they are overreacting to what should technically be considered under the public domain. More on why in just a moment…
“Opening the file finds a 3 foot tall design, too big to be printed on 99% of 3d printers. It also has NO inner workings (and I don’t even know what they are), and no fins on the back. Obviously the inner workings are critical to the functioning of a round.”
You heard it there folks. This file is for a solid replica that has no working internal components. Nothing anyone ought to freak out from. But what if the hardware, propellant, and all other necessary elements for a HEAT round were available in addition to this file?
“Alright, let’s assume that you SOMEHOW could print the round AND all the propellant etc, which is impossible with today’s technology. It is still in plastic, which would not contain the explosion as much as metal and therefore be much less potent than a standard round.”
The biggest blow to the idea that this file poses a special new danger to the public at large stems not just from the fact that you can’t find the inner workings of a real HEAT round along with the explosives and propellant, but where Proteus actually got the information used to make the file in the first place:
“And the kicker? I got everything to make this design, right here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:125mm_BK-14m_HEAT.JPG“
4 – 5.56/.223 muzzle brake
So let me get this straight… A muzzle break – which comes on just about any rifle these days by default and is nearly useless when printed in ABS or PLA or any plastic for that matter – is considered a troublesome offense to the ITAR laws? This is about as relevant to a firearm as a muffler is to a car. Sure, it may be a trivial component used in conjunction with a firearm but the object itself is useless unless you already have one. Not to mention the fact that a plastic muzzle break will not withstand the pressure and heat from a gun blast.
5 – Springfield XD-40 tactical slide assembly
This was designed by a DefCad forum member named “texan_eagle_scout” who presented this here: http://forums.defcad.com/showthread.php?126-My-contribution
Nothing people can’t already acquire. You would be hard-pressed to get a printed slide to word on an actual Springfield XD.
6 – Sound Moderator – slip on
You may recall when the Liberator was first released that Chuck Schumer flipped his lid about a printable gun that could accept “silencers.” He may have been dumb enough to simply regurgitate what the New York Daily News reported on this matter, claiming that printable “silencers” were available for the Liberator. As the picture above clearly illustrates, this is nothing of the sort.
7 – “The Dirty Diane” 1/2-28 to 3/4-16 STP S3600 oil filter silencer adapter
When it comes to legal gray areas that are open to wide interpretation, this object epitomizes such dilemmas the most. This is a car part and not something distinct to firearms. Explanation for why this violates international arms trafficking laws of any kind would sure be nice.
8 – 12 gauge to .22 CB sub-caliber insert
Here is another example of something that calls into question just how broad ITAR restrictions can be applied. What this is supposed to do is turn a shotgun (a relatively lethal weapon at close range), into a .22lr rifle. For those of you who know nothing about firearms, .22lr rounds are just about the smallest cartridges you could possibly find anywhere.
All in all this file would allow someone to make a plastic tube that makes their shotgun less lethal than it already was.
9 – Voltlock electronic black powder system
Now we enter even more confusing territory about what the State Department thinks could potentially violate weapons export laws. As you can see in the image above, the “Voltlock” is nothing more than a cylinder – nothing more. I checked the actual CAD files (.stl) for this and it appears that this is supposed to be turned into a tube somehow. From there a hole exists at the top to insert some kind of black powder as well as electrical wiring to ignite it in some way. Clearly this is nothing more than a concept item like the “.22 electric” listed at #2 above.
This file reaches the pinnacle of the “Just how f-ing far can ITAR go???” mantra, and it’s not that hard to see why.
10 – VZ-58 sight
Like many – if not all of the other objects on this list, I find this one to be a peculiar addition. Yes this file is a firearm component, but all this does is function like a rear sight replacement. Anyone with a gun that could make use of this part probably already has such a thing. I mean, guns do come with rear sights by default.
If the events surrounding ITAR’s present effect on these files means anything, it’s the fact that the Department of State is a bigger threat (or nuisance for that matter) than any of the parts they complained about.