UT law alumnus uses 3D printers to counter gun regulation


Marisa Vasquez

UT alumnus Cody Wilson developed software that would offer a design to make firearms through 3D printers.

Cameron Osmond

Listed among Wired magazine’s “most dangerous men in the world,” UT alumnus Cody Wilson is unlike others who decorate the list. While many of those listed, such as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Bashar Assad, are known for their mass crimes, Wilson earned his place using a campus 3D printer to create a gun. 

In the summer of 2012, prior to the start of his second year of UT Law, Wilson founded Defense Distributed, a nonprofit corporation that designs guns intended for public 3D printing over the Internet. He created 3D printable models of firearms that anyone with access to Internet and a 3D printer could produce with a click, limiting government regulation on the guns. 

“I’d say that I’m dangerous to the enemies of free people,” Wilson said. “Maybe I’m a danger to a vision of control, a vision of prohibition and speech codes, and the militarization of information. But that’s the old order. Free people don’t have anything to fear from me.”

By May 2013, after Wilson and his programming team designed and built a variety of firearms, they released the designs online for a pistol named the “Liberator.” It found immediate success, with 100,000 downloads in two days. Wilson said the design’s popularity is indicative of the public demand for such a product. “I realized that because of the Internet and because of expanding availability of 3D printers, guns would be, at least theoretically, more available,” Wilson said. “Upon its release, the western nation states froze up and tried everything they could do to make it illegal and tear it down. As far as a project, it was almost completely successful, almost 100 percent. Obviously, we would’ve liked that it wasn’t taken down.”

In May 2013, Wilson and Defense Distributed received an email from U.S. Department of State, ordering that Defense Distributed remove their gun designs from the Internet. The government determined that Wilson’s corporation had not received the required approval necessary under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations act to publish the gun files onto the public domain. Wilson and Defense Distributed brought legal suit against the State Department of the Western District of Texas two years later, citing the government for violating the corporation’s First, Second and Fifth Amendment rights.

“I’m a Second Amendment absolutist,” Wilson said. “When I read the amendment, I take it to absolutely mean what it says. When the thing says make no law, or when it says for it to not be infringed, I take it to the absolute whole.”

Wilson said there were many challenges he and his crew faced at the onset of forming Defense Distributed and releasing the gun design plans. He said his peers at UT Law didn’t take him seriously at the corporation’s launch. 

“A lot of people at UT Law, when I founded [Defense Distributed], were incredulous about it,” Wilson said. “Especially the rhetoric we used, which was unabashedly libertarian pro-Second Amendment. It initially took everyone off guard. However, very quickly, we began to do real things, affecting the gun debate after Sandy Hook. At that point, I think the position became one of not open, but quiet hostility.”

Wilson, from his personal experiences with campus activism, said he now understands what pro-campus carry activists face. 

“I have lots of sympathy for the conservatives that are the targets of these anti-carry protests,” Wilson said. “But really, the same thing that’s happening now happened to the University of Colorado back in 2012. Basically, it all fizzled out. A big protest happened and now, three years later, no one talks about it. The same thing’s going to happen here.”