Once 3D printers became a thing, making some things illegal to 3D print became a thing. Clearly there are some dangerous or illegal items you don't want people printing off willy nilly in their basements or garages. And firearms are one of those things.
Soon after Defense Distributed published designs for its "Liberator" -- supposedly the world's first 3D printed handgun -- the U.S. Department of Defense came calling. In the five years since, the two have been battling over the legality of disseminating specs for 3D-printed firearms, and finally reached a settlement that went into effect in June allowed Defense Distributed to publicly release CAD files for the Liberator and other weapons.
Free Speech and Gun Rights
Even though the files had already been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, Defense Distributed agreed to remove the files, and, after waiting two years for Department of State approval to re-publish, decided to battle the government on First Amendment grounds. In 2015, the company, with the help of the Second Amendment Foundation, sued the State Department, claiming the ban on the gun files amounted to prior restraint censorship, a violation of the company's free speech rights.
The two finally settled the matter, with the Liberator specs and other files "approved for public release (i.e., unlimited distribution) in any form." The settlement also included the government agreeing to pay Defense Distributed $40,000 in legal fees.
Black Letters and Ghosts
"It's just now black letter law that you can traffic in this information," Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson told Ars Technica. "There isn't the need for the subterranean Dark Web. It can be done in the clearnet and in the light of day and reputable places."
The Liberator isn't Wilson's only firearm-related project. He also told Ars he has been selling "Ghost Gunners," milling devices from Defense Distributed that allow home gun-builders to turn an 80 percent lower -- a vital component for homemade AR-15s, AR 10s, or pistols -- into functional and untraceable weapons. (Such lowers are not considered firearms, legally, and therefore do not require the registration or serialization like 100 percent-completed guns.)
Once those ghost guns are completed, however, they do fall under federal oversight, as an epic 2015 bust in California demonstrated.