A decentralised network of gun-printing advocates is mobilising online, they're anonymously sharing blueprints, advice and building a community. There's no easy way they can be halted.
A new network of 3D-printed gun advocates is growing in America - and this time things are different. Unlike previous attempts to popularize 3D-printed guns, this operation is entirely decentralized. There's no headquarters, no trademarks, and no real leader. The people behind it reckon that this means they can't be stopped by governments.
"If they [the government] were to come after me, they'd first have to find my identity," says Ivan the Troll, a member of the group. "I'm one of many, many like-minded individuals who're doing this sort of work."
Known only by his online moniker, Ivan the Troll is the de facto spokesman of an underground wave of 3D-printing gunsmiths. Ivan says he knows of at least 100 people who are actively developing 3D-printed gun technology, and he claims there are thousands taking part in the network. This loose-knit community spans across the whole world.
They communicate across several digital platforms, including Signal, Twitter, IRC, and Discord. They critique each other's work, exchange 3D gun CAD files, offer advice, talk theory, and collaborate on future blueprints. These 3D-printed gun enthusiasts - who share similar ideas and political viewpoints on gun control - mostly found each other online via gun control subreddits and forums.
Ivan has launched bombastic PR videos demonstrating the new 3D-printed gun parts he's created in his garage, including a Glock 17 handgun frame.
One of his most recent videos shows the polymer Glock 17 frame in various stages of production in his workshop. The footage is set to fast-paced synthwave music and is run through a trendy VHS filter - the aesthetics are important.
He's also uploaded the complete CAD reference model designs for a 3D-printed AR-15 assault rifle to his file-sharing space online. It's clear Ivan is trying to provoke his detractors as much as possible.
In February of this year, Ivan and his group decided to name themselves "Deterrence Dispensed", which is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the notorious Defence Distributed - a 3D-printing gun company,which was before seen as the driving force behind 3D-printed guns since it launched in 2012.
Defence Distributed has many other ongoing legal battles. Attorney generals from more than 20 US states are currently in the process of suing the company - which has countersued - in a bid to reverse a court win that momentarily allowed Defence Distributed to upload and share 3D-printed gun blueprints online. Their headaches are long, drawn out, and ongoing. (New York State has just passed a law to ban 3D-printed guns).
For Ivan's group, Deterrence Dispensed, none of this is relevant. They're uploading these files individually on services such as Spee.ch, a media-hosting site underpinned by the LBRY blockchain, and they aren't waiting for anyone to give them permission. They've made their own 3D-printed gun designs, modified old ones, and are keeping all the Defence Distributed ones available for free too.
Ivan isn't just "drawing stuff on CAD" though. He's providing free files to help anyone with a half-decent FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printer and some hand tools to make a workable handgun. Once the CAD file is downloaded, it's opened in a "slicer" program that translates the CAD files into instructions that the 3D printer can understand. Once the 3D-printed gun parts are ready, they can be assembled into a fully workable gun.
Already in 2019, 156 people have already been killed in US mass shootings, and gun-related deaths are at a 20-year high.the facts are clear. The majority of gun deaths around the world come from just six countries - one of which is the US. And analysis from Harvard University shows where there are more guns, more murders happen.
Anti-gun campaigners, obviously, disagree with the notion of a downloadable gun. Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Campaign, has said 3D-printed guns present a "supreme threat to our safety and security". Speaking after a court decision in August Gardiner said: "Already, there have been a wave of dangerous actors seeking to illegally post the blueprints online".
A mix of a libertarian attitude and the rewarding hobby aspect of designing and creating something is often what drives members of these decentralised 3D-printed gun networks to do what they do - that is, uploading schematics, sharing them, improving designs, and making 3D-printed gun work more easily accessible while remaining largely under the radar.
As of now, Ivan the Troll, Deterrence Dispensed, and the thousands many more 3D-printed gun enthusiasts connected to each other worldwide, have essentially let the cat out the bag. There is no way to stop the anonymous file sharing of 3D-printed guns online. Whether they're just pretending to be doing this for reasons of liberty or otherwise, their message is clear: it's already too late to stop.