At SXSW, 3D-printed guns get their turn in the spotlight, too

Defense Distributed's Cody Wilson stands by his group's efforts despite opposition

3D printing's capabilities in art, sculpture and toys have generated considerable buzz at South by Southwest Interactive over the past few days. But one Austin, Texas-based group has a more controversial application in mind: guns.

"When I read some of the coverage of this event, it's like, 'Look at the amazing things we've done with 3D printing,'" said Cody Wilson [cq], CEO of the pro-gun nonprofit Defense Distributed.

"But people don't know what to do with it. It's all cupcakes and lawn gnomes," he said Monday afternoon during a speech at the tech show.

Defense Distributed manufactures gun parts using 3D printers and posts the blueprints online for anyone to download. Its latest accomplishment is a printable magazine for an AK-47 assault rifle. Defense Distributed envisions a future in which anyone would have easy access to the technology to print gun parts themselves, though Wilson didn't say whether those plans include completely assembled guns.

The group's hope is that the technology will eventually become so advanced and widespread that it will render gun control laws meaningless. "People are going to be able to pass this contraband between one another to the point that 'contraband' won't be a meaningful way of describing it anymore," Wilson said.

The DIY gunsmith group has faced numerous setbacks since its founding last year, which now include possible legislation to shut them down, but those behind the effort remain undeterred, Wilson said.

"I'm not stopping," he told a large audience of SXSW attendees.

So far, Defense Distributed printed gun parts have been fabricated in plastic, Wilson said. The AK-47 magazine tested by the group was able to withstand 60 rounds before the unit began to crack, he said.

Defense Distributed, which maintains a repository of blueprint files at Defcad.org, has seen 50,000 downloads over the last two weeks and 400,000 downloads since the end of December, Wilson said.

3D printing more generally has been a big hit at SXSW this year. During the opening keynote of the show, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis introduced a prototype of his company's MakerBot Digitizer. That product is designed to let users scan 3D objects about 8 inches around and 8 inches high so they can be replicated.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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